Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

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  • Doreen
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Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Dear Colleagues,

Today I came across a very interesting piece by Euphresia Luseka titled "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Here is the link: https://medium.com/@euphresia_luseka/initiating-de-colonization-of-wash-sector-knowledge-c8ad0a9f8d6

Two key sections below.

"While appreciating the high volume of on-going WASH and Covid-19 webinars, as WASH actors, have we noticed the explicit imbalance on global WASH sector knowledge? It is for this reason that I support Bruce. B., (2019) who argues that, while the physical colonisation of the countries of the global South by the countries of the global North may have ended, knowledge colonialism continues."

"In the year 2020, it is puzzling how North donor organizations design strategies, policy documents, frameworks, guidelines and so on to guide Africa’s water sector and they are endorsed for sector practice with zero participation in authoring, editing or overall contributions by Africans including those from their organizations. Instead Africans feature in data collection where we are asked the normal how long does it take you to fetch water and the likes? Does it mean Africans are consumers of knowledge and not producers?"
Doreen Mbalo

GIZ Sustainable Sanitation Programme
Policy Advisor in Bonn, Germany
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
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  • Carol McCreary
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

I agree, Doreen.  We've skirted around this aspect of knowledge management too long.  Without taking it to heart.

It's gotten worse in my lifetime. When I was at university we were guided by Paulo Freire.  He forced us to be sure we knew whose voices we should be listening to.  Not exactly the same issue as professionals from the North carrying on blindly like this.   But the times - the earlier post colonial years - were different, too.

Please share your views to keep the conversation going. Medium will likely welcome a follow up piece, too.

Yes, "Water experts seem to be the enemies within towards SDG 6 realization."   Time to re-write the narrative.

Carol
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Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi Doreen and all,

Thanks for bringing this article on decolonization to our attention. I would like to learn more and reflect on our own work as well. You pointed out this paragraph:

In the year 2020, it is puzzling how North donor organizations design strategies, policy documents, frameworks, guidelines and so on to guide Africa’s water sector and they are endorsed for sector practice with zero participation in authoring, editing or overall contributions by Africans including those from their organizations. 

Is this something you have observed on a regular basis in your work? Would you say GIZ is guilty of that as well or not? I wouldn't necessarily say so, I think they have a very partner-driven approach. They also employ a lot of "national staff" which would help, I would have thought. On the GIZ website it says "Our 20,726 employees, almost 70 per cent of whom are national personnel, work in around 120 countries." 

I realise you work for GIZ so you can't discuss everything freely on this forum, but perhaps you have some suggestions/comments in general terms, or you know of examples where GIZ tried explicitly not to fall into the trap of colonisation of WASH sector knowledge?

How about SuSanA? We have long lamented that we have too many people from the Global North in our SuSanA core group and not enough from the Global South... How about here on the forum? NB: we are currently analysing who posts on the forum in terms of gender and Global North/South, and have been thinking about how we can get more females and more people from the Global South to post. But that's not enough. I am sure there is more we can and should be doing.

There is a drive to be more open about failures so let's lead the way. 

Regards,
Elisabeth   
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  • dietvorst
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Linked to this incident*, a recent blog by Euphresia Luseka on Initiating De-colonisation of WASH Sector Knowledge  has sparked a lively discussion on the RWSN Leave No-one Behind Dgroup discussion forum  [login required] and two blogs posted on the IRC website:

Decolonising the WASH sector - Being true to #BlackLivesMatter. Report of an IRC Global Talk.

Decolonisation of WASH knowledge: addressing institutional bias - COVID-19 and #BlackLivesMatter are a wake-up call for leaders to take a closer look at WASH knowledge generation.

Cor Dietvorst, Information Manager, IRC WASH, @dietvorst


* See forum thread on: "Failure to publish a special issue on failures - due to unfair position regarding open access fee waivers for International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health" ( here ) (added by moderator)
Cor Dietvorst
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Dear Cor and all,

Thank you for pointing us to the parallel discussion on the same topic which took place in the RWSN Dgroup in July. I wasn't aware of it as I wasn't a member of their Dgroup on "Leave Noone Behind" so I really appreciate your hint.

(I tried joining that group and it took me several attempts; the initial website form didn't work for me; if anyone else has problems joining that RWSN group with this link then please e-mail the RWSN secretariat or Sean Furey.)

While reading through the 37 posts I learnt a lot. The topics were much broader than WASH alone and touched on the whole development sector model, for example that problematic issue of different day rates for expats compared to national staff - which in my opinion is a tricky one (and I am not sure if the SuSanA discussion forum would be the right place to discuss it; we normally keep a narrow focus on sanitation, although perhaps we shouldn't do that?).

Question to Depinder:
You wrote in that Dgroup on 2 July:

It is important to also state that individual consultants and WASH sector professionals are not seen as colonising - rather the whole system of knowledge generation, funding and donors and international agencies - its an institutional decolonisation of knowledge that we need to attack and change. Not individuals. Recently, as part of the Susana Working Group on Capacity Development Theme Paper - I had to be blunt and say that the group does not have a single WASH expert from Southern countries of Asia or Africa on the working group.

Kerstin replied on 6 July:
 

It is good to hear of you challenging the membership of the Susana Working Group.  Did it bring about any change? RWSN, and Susana, as networks, should be places where knowledge that does not necessarily adheres to “the mainstream” in is shared, discussed and debated.

I worry that some readers of those posts might think that the SuSanA secretariat purposefully excluded SuSanA members from the Global South. This is definitely not the case. You can see here that Laura invited everyone to contribute to the factsheet revision in her forum post on 14 February:  https://forum.susana.org/54-wg-1-capacity-development/23757-contribute-to-the-new-susana-factsheet-on-capacity-development

Were you the only person from the Global South who reacted to that call? If so, why? One reason might be that funding might be an issue for people, e.g. if working for a small busy NGO or university in the Global South one might have less time for "extras" such as contributing to a revision of a factsheet of a working group, compared to someone working for a large organisation in the Global North who has a dedicated budget line for activities on knowledge management.

I don't know, I am just speculating. What do you think should be done to improve the situation and to get more people from the Global South into such working groups?

The issue of SuSanA (and its core group) being potentially too dominated by people from the Global North is well known. It is even documented in the Wikipedia article about SuSanA  :

The activities of SuSanA so far have a tendency to take place and be driven by actors in the Global North, especially by European actors. [14]  To overcome this to some extent, SuSaA set-up local "chapters" in India in 2016, West Asia and North Africa ( WANA ) in 2017, and Latin America in 2018. [14]  

Regards,
Elisabeth
Head moderator of this Discussion Forum
(under consultancy contract with Skat Foundation funded by WSSCC)

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Brisbane, Australia
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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

As one of those foreign knowledge workers (from the global north) involved in capacity building in the global south I have been thinking about this quite a bit over the years and might have gotten a bit bitter about it...

At least in my personal experience this isn't for a lack of trying to involve policy makers and researchers from the global south. If fact it is being tried so much, that the few people seemingly interested and able to contribute end up overloaded and tired of yet another attempt to involve them.

Of course much can be said about misguided and superficial attempts for "involvement" and there is certainly the deeper question why there are so few people in the global south interested and able to contribute (funding plays a role but isn't the full picture). But there are a lot of honest and well meaning attempts to "decolonize" knowledge for quite some time already with little sustainable effect.

Hence I doubt raising this as an issue in the institutions of the global north in order to increase the amount of contribution from the global south is going to amount to much. The likely result will be probably only some more paid "token" positions for persons from the global south to artificially and rather ineffectively raise the global south "contributions".
(But I don't want to sound like criticizing the recent hiring of SuSanA moderators from the global south, which I think overall is a good thing and not fully comparable to those institutional positions mentioned above).

I think a large part of the issue stems from the huge divergence of life realities between global north bureaucratic and academic institutions (and their members) and the issues and interests of persons in the global south. Adding to that, various reasons (language and formal qualifications among them) result in a selection of mostly people from the rich urban upper-class of the global south being the ones getting the offered jobs and most of the interaction (despite having little intrinsic self-interest/motivation in most of the typical "development" topics), thus this can be hardly called de-colonisation.

To summarize: the entire current setup isn't suitable for de-colonization, and current efforts are at most going to divert some more funding from the global north into just as colonizing but maybe superficially (as in skin color only) more diverse setups, likely involving a lot of people that are even less self-motivated to solve the issues in question. Hence, in my personal opinion it is probably better to accept current global north institutions (as bad and non-diverse as they are) but push for more open / patent free access to knowledge. Based on that some home-grown initiatives might come up that are worth supporting through likely different channels, although that will be a long process and highly dependent on other factors improving in global south countries.
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