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

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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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  • 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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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)
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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
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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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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

Hi Elizabeth,

Institutions are made of individuals. To remove institutional bias - de colonisation of knowledge - requires an openness in questioning how the sub groups, individuals and parts of the large institution function. I had no intention to paint Susana as bad or IRC as good. You have been very supportive in encouraging participation. I am also part of the Susana Change Management Task Force, that has a representation from all parts of the world and organisational typologies. 

I would not have liked to share my experience but since you have been persistent in knowing why i made that comment on the WG 1, suffice to say that I had been persuading Working Group 1 Capacity Building to not just expand the WG 1 with representation from southern experts but to make the WG 1 more functional in terms of having more active WG Leads who work in collaboration with a group of active co leads and core group members who lead discussions, take the WG1 agenda forward - and this should be representative. When Capacity Building Factsheet revision mail was sent out, I had again reached out and asked for specific southern experts participation in this work. This recommendation was made when a small working group essentially from north was nominating itself to revise the Capacity Building Factsheet. Yes based on my persistence, I was asked to join the group thereafter. And am happy to contribute to the finalisation of the Factsheet that I believe, in partnership with some members of WG 1, has been a better output. Now out for peer review.

Hope this helps.

Coming back to the topic - de colonisation of WASH knowledge - the discussion is important to identify where we are failing in the agenda setting for WASH Knowledge and what needs to be done. The caste and class or tribal community perspective - perhaps is difficult to capture from a northern lens. It is also a political issue that many southern experts dont want to touch. 

Constantly challenging ourselves, not being defensive, not making it personal....................is perhaps the way to go. Hence I had identified the challenge as removing institutional bias. 
Depinder Kapur is a senior Development and WASH expert and is currently leading the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform of National Institute of Urban Affairs in New Delhi that is focussed on non sewered sanitation systems( scbp.niua.org). He has worked with AKRSP, SPWD, CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator).

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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge" - and recording from Euphresia's speech at 30th SuSanA meeting

Thank you Kris and Depinder for your very honest and insightful contributions in this thread! I think it takes guts to post one's views in this thread because it's easy to "say the wrong thing" and then be regarded as another "insensitive Northerner" or something like that. 

I'd like to highlight this thought from Kris which I think is important:

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.

From Depinder's post I'd like to highlight in particular this one which I found very important:

The caste and class or tribal community perspective - perhaps is difficult to capture from a northern lens. It is also a political issue that many southern experts don't want to touch. 



Meanwhile, Euphresia Luseka (the Kenyan Water Governance Expert whose article started this thread) gave a keynote speech (no slides) at the opening plenary of the SuSanA meeting. You can watch and listen here, it starts at 1:02:12 hours:minutes into the video:

Video at 1:02:12

If the link above doesn't take you to the right place just scroll forward to 1:02:12 here:



When I attended the webinar, I saw many people writing in the chat and felt there was still many things that needed to be discussed and explored. Hence I invite you all to continue the discussion in this thread.

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

Its good to have an open discussion on this topic.

While we may all interpret this from our own experience and perspective, it will be good to define a few questions or atleast the critical areas of discussion first. Let me attempt this here. 

1. Who drives eh WASH Knowledge agenda - is this important for us to understand and dig deeper? If not then the debate ends. If yes, then de colonisation of WASH knowledge should happen at every level - including sub national to national. Not just north-south.

2. Are there WASH knowledge areas/perspectives/contexts that southern national experts are in a better position to understand? If no, then the debate ends here. If yes, then the debate shifts to how these issues can be brought up to international level and collaborations forged with north experts.

3. Are the existing institutional WASH Knowledge Platforms inclusive? Are they representative of southern experts? If yes then fine, debate ends. If not, then lets identify areas of improvement. 

Any other critical areas - if we start defining as a start?

Regards.

Depinder Kapur
Depinder Kapur is a senior Development and WASH expert and is currently leading the Sanitation Capacity Building Platform of National Institute of Urban Affairs in New Delhi that is focussed on non sewered sanitation systems( scbp.niua.org). He has worked with AKRSP, SPWD, CARE(Director NRM), Oxfam(Program & Advocacy Director), WaterAid India(Country Head) and WSSCC(National Coordinator).

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

amooijman wrote: An other observation. Having worked in the sector for so long is, that I see for the past 10 years or so, that countries in the North send more and more well-paid evaluators for programmes and projects. Politicians in the North, pushed by their tax-paying voters, want to be sure that money being provided to the South is being used efficiently and without fraude.  I agree that, indeed, this can feel like a colonial attitude.


I think the core problem isn't the foreign evaluators, and sadly I seen too many cases of "too friendly" evaluations especially (but not only) when evaluators came from the same country. In fact, I think nearly everyone agrees that the lack of accountability on all levels is often one if not the main issue with many development projects. However, rarely do external evaluations result in any change regarding this either...

But it does indeed start to feel a somewhat colonial when the goals of a project are too donor driven. An external evaluation just makes this painfully obvious when trying to measure the results compared to the stated goals.
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

depinder wrote: 1. Who drives eh WASH Knowledge agenda - is this important for us to understand and dig deeper? If not then the debate ends. If yes, then de colonisation of WASH knowledge should happen at every level - including sub national to national. Not just north-south.


Yes definitely. High level centralization is probably a major deterrent for meaningful contributions from the global south. Of course (having fallen into the same trap before) this is often preferred by donors and other institutional actors from the global north as it appears much easier to engage with and apparent quick wins can be done easily. But unless it becomes a national agenda (with all the negative side effects as seen in India), central government/institutional staff is unlikely to contribute significantly in the medium to long term.

depinder wrote: 2. Are there WASH knowledge areas/perspectives/contexts that southern national experts are in a better position to understand? If no, then the debate ends here. If yes, then the debate shifts to how these issues can be brought up to international level and collaborations forged with north experts.


There is certainly a number of southern national experts that are "colonized" in the sense that they studied abroad and/or primarily learned from standard northern textbooks and now try to replicate/extend this knowledge back home. This isn't all bad, as they do push for better technology and services, but often it ends up being only feasible for a tiny percentage of the population due to broader social & economic constraints.
What I find striking though, is the relative lack of "home-grown" contributions especially from transitional countries that seemingly could add a lot to the international WASH knowledge sector. I somewhat suspect that this is due to language barrier (Brazil/China) and specific institutional and cultural issues (India, see also above). But I think a notable exception might be contributions from South Africa, at least in the past. Edit: If I would guess, this might be also due to a lack of externally funded projects in these countries that are compelled to document their findings to satisfy donor requirements.

depinder wrote: 3. Are the existing institutional WASH Knowledge Platforms inclusive? Are they representative of southern experts? If yes then fine, debate ends. If not, then lets identify areas of improvement. 

Probably not too much, but given the general lack of engagement I would rather question their overall relevance than debate finer details of inclusiveness...
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Re: Article "Initiating De-colonisation of WASH sector Knowledge"

I have been discussing this subject for 11 years and this is the first time I am being told it's not constructive; interestingly in USA we also
still got people who don't believe #BlackLivesMatter and the advocacy
against it is unnecessary on the other hand recently we are also
increasingly seeing most organizations, governments, people etc. coming
out strongly on their stand on equality, anti-racism and the likes and
as an African who knows where the shoe pinches, I choose to focus on
this positivity and advancement of human rights. The WASH sector is a
human rights sector and the principle of equality, fairness and good
governance must apply regardless. This is non-negotiable. Remember the
problem is not white people but white supremacy and my initial article
on de-colonising WASH knowledge and all contributions I have made on
knowledge platforms is very clear on this.

I also do not understand your stand; from your input at some point you
agree a challenge exists and equality in donor funded work is pertinent
and even demonstrate an example of your experience then you also say
that this conversation is not constructive. Well, this sector is very
contextualized to believe that equality in donor work is homogenous in
Africa because it worked for you in the countries you worked in. For
instance, how many donors are in SierraLeone, Ghana or Namibia? Are they
all applying the principles of transparency, accountability and
participation in their partnerships with Africans? Evidence is clear
from BIPOC WASH experts amongst other professionals who are sharing
their stories on the topic and giving win-win solutions that there is
need of de-colonising WASH sector, it is for these people and most
importantly ensuring we have impactful donor aid and trade in Africa
that this discussion is important and will continue remaining pertinent
even generations to come.

We need to come together in mutual dialogue and a willingness to change
and address power imbalances. There are so many reasons for WASH failure
and de-colonisation can help address this in a systems thinking
approach (referencing to input of various WASH stakeholders on various
knowledge platforms on how this can be attained), so our voices will
remain undaunted. All in all I would encourage you to read more about
the subject and understand it in its totality.
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