The Need For Alternative Knowledge For Development


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October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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The Need For Alternative Knowledge To Bring About Development


Address by Dr. Otive Igbuzor,

 Country Director, ActionAid International Nigeria at the Public Presentation of Real Aid: An Agenda for Making Aid Work and Whose Freedom?: Millennium Development Goals as if People Matter held in Abuja, Nigeria on 2nd December, 2005







The greatest challenge facing humanity is that of development i.e. producing good change that will increase the quality of life of people; guarantee of good, quality and relevant education for all; ensure food security; shelter; adequate health; mitigate the impact of diseases; reduce inequity and conflicts; empower women and make the environment more conducive for all. There has been a lot of discourse on how this can be done. The world today is generating the greatest amount of wealth ever known in history. At the same time, these development challenges are becoming more complex and disturbing. There is a kind of dominant knowledge in the world that is driving development discourse and practice. According to ActionAid International Strategy Rights to End Poverty, we shall use research to develop and promote alternatives:

We carry out research to understand and expose how existing systems, policies and practices perpetuate poverty and injustice. We pilot innovative projects to develop good development practice. For example, we are researching new ways of involving poor people in decision making on education, budgets and policy. We develop model that seek to advance understanding of the processes bringing marginalization and exclusion…[i]

In order to achieve this ActionAid International is in the process of setting up knowledge Initiative Institute.

The African strategy reinforces this when it states that:

We shall use our people centred work and research in Africa to partner with others to document, develop, democratise and promote knowledge rooted in African identity and aspirations, in pursuit of eradicating poverty and injustice.[ii]

 The presentation of the two books today (The Reality of Aid and Whose Freedom) is a culmination of our desire to implement our strategy. There are other pieces of work being done throughout the organization at different levels of completion. These include:

  1. Contradicting Commitments: How the Achievement of Education for All is being undermined by the International Monetary Fund

  2. Changing Course: Alternative Approaches to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals and Fight HIV/AIDS

  3. Writing the Wrongs: International Benchmarks on Adult Literacy

We shall make the public presentation of these publications with the relevant interest groups at the appropriate time.


In the Nigeria Country Programme of ActionAid International, we are also doing some pieces of work at different levels of completion. These include:

  1. Partnership Assessment and Development Framework (PADEF): ActionAid International Nigeria commenced work in 2000 and since then has been involved in capacity building of both government and non-governmental institutions to bring about poverty eradication in Nigeria. Our experience shows that capacity building will only be relevant, useful and effective if it is based on a proper capacity assessment. The PADEF manual is the product of five years of intensive work supporting Nigeria Civil society organisations’ institutional and programming capacity for better pro poor work. The strategic objectives of ActionAid International Nigeria captured in the Country Strategy Paper clearly describes the importance of increased institutional capacities of various institutions that on a day to day basis impacts on poor peoples ability to meet basic needs and live a life of dignity.


We have found the experience of putting organisations in charge of their own change and growth process rewarding and a very powerful change motivator for the organisation. This experience we have now captured in PADEF manual. It is clear to us that capacity building goes beyond training. Training has been described as a planned process designed to expand or refine skills and knowledge and to examine attitudes, ideas and behaviour with a view to modifying them. Training is often times short-term and intensive and targeted at specific people and institutional needs. Our approach to training which is captured in this manual is participatory and experiential. It is based on the principle of adult learning which shows that people learn more effectively when their capacity and knowledge is valued and when they are able to share and analyse their experiences in an enabling and empowering manner. In this approach, learning within the group involves people sharing their problems and knowledge with others and collectively finding strategies and solutions.


  1. Reflect Evaluation Report: Reflect is an approach to adult learning that incorporates elements of empowerment and action for social change. It was conceived by ActionAid and developed through pilot programmes in Uganda, Bangladesh and El Salvador between 1993 and 1995. REFLECT is an acronym for Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques. It is a fusion of the political philosophy of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and participatory methodologies of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). From the pilot studies in three  countries, reflect approach is today utilized in over sixty countries of the world. Reflect attempts to strengthen the capacity of people especially the poor and marginalized to communicate their ideas and issues. It helps people to claim and assert their basic rights and challenge structures, institutions and systems of injustice and oppression. It creates space for the voice of the poor and marginalized to be heard based on their existing knowledge and experience.  ActionAid International Nigeria Reflect project titled  Strengthening Civil Society Through Participatory Approaches to Capacity Building in Nigeria  and sponsored by the European Union was implemented by AAIN from 2000-2004 to strengthen the capacity of poor women, men, girls and boys in Nigeria to achieve their basic rights through the use of participatory approaches. The project contributed to an improvement in the communication and mobilization skills of the poor and excluded as well as promotion of gender equity and sensitivity and adult literacy.



  1.  Rights of Adolescents in relation to HIV/AIDs: A Participatory Action Research: The Participatory Action Research (PAR) on Adolescents’ Right-To-Know (RTK) project sponsored by UNICEF presents a rights-based approach to addressing the informational needs of young people and delivering appropriate information, education and communication on HIV and AIDS. The process is one that lays emphasis on the rights of individuals, to appropriate information and services that enable them make informed choices.

  2. Accountability, Transformation and Mobilisation in Education Handbook: This handbook addresses three key issues in education in Nigeria: accountability, transformation and mobilization. The section on accountability deals with Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and School Management Committees (SMCs). The section on transformation looks at the challenge of changing school based learning processes and the school environment by bringing rights into the classroom and turning schools into arenas to transform society. The section on mobilization deals with how to mobilize and empower communities to address the challenges of access, quality, appropriateness, functionality, infrastructure and governance system of schools.

  3. Public Finance Watch: The Public Finance Watch is a newsletter that X-rays the challenges of the budgetary process, budget allocation, budget tracking and the issues of transparency and accountability.    

  4. Another Nigeria is Possible: Only recently, in partnership with other groups, we presented the proceedings of the First Nigeria Social Forum tilled Another Nigeria is Possible. In this work, we showed that the objective and subjective conditions of Nigeria makes another Nigeria not just as a mere possibility but an imperative. We documented how we can redefine the women’s movement, provide water without privatization, challenge patriarchy, tackle the limitations imposed by culture and religion, reorganize international trade, produce a peoples’ constitution, achieve education for all, strategies for affirmative action, alternative ways to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic, how to make aid effective, how to address the challenge of multicultural citizenship, and alternative poverty eradication strategy.

In all these work, our goal is work to transform the society to eradicate poverty and injustice. We have argued elsewhere that:

The positioning of civil society organizations with respect to development issues can be categorized into four groups: abolitionist, transformist, reformist and conformist.[iii] The Abolitionists argue that the structures and systems in place to deliver on development are illegitimate and constrain freedom and capacity of individuals to bring about development. They recommend the abolition of all structures including governmental structures, private companies, e.t.c. and replacing them with completely new ones. Many of them believe that nothing positive will be achieved until the entire structure is abolished… The Transformists are of the view that that there are fundamental problems with the structures and mechanisms in place to bring about development. They argue that the processes that emanate from the structures and mechanisms are oppressive and exclude the poor. They suggest a fundamental restructuring of the structures and mechanisms to deliver development…


The Reformists see nothing fundamentally wrong with the structures and mechanism. They argue that the problem is with leadership and performance. They suggest that good leadership, discipline and proper management can bring about the desired development. The reformists believe in entreism i.e. that they can go into government by whatever means (election or appointment) to bring about the desired changes. The Conformists see nothing wrong with the system. They just want to be part of the system. Their greatest argument is for the involvement of the civil society in governance and development projects. The conformists are always lobbying for positions in government. They are mostly opportunists.[iv]

Consistently, our experience all over the world shows that inequality is the greatest obstacle to development. According to the human development report 2005,

Human development gaps within countries are as stark as the gaps between countries. These gaps reflect unequal opportunity- people held back because of their gender, group identity, wealth or location. Such inequalities are unjust. They are also economically wasteful and socially destablising. Overcoming structural forces that create and perpetuate extreme inequality is one of the most efficient routes for overcoming extreme poverty, enhancing welfare of society and accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).[v]

Unfortunately, many countries of the world especially in Africa continue to formulate and implement policies and programmes that further widen the gap instead of closing the gap between rich and poor nations on the one hand and rich and poor citizens of individual countries on the other. Part of the problem is that the dominant knowledge in the world promoted by the dominant classes naturally lead to widening of the gap. The challenge is therefore to propose concrete, practical and workable alternatives that will close the gap.


I challenge all of us in our work and practice to think, reflect and look for innovative ways to address the development challenge facing humanity.




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[i] ActionAid International (2005), Rights to End Poverty. ActionAid International Strategy 2005-2010

[ii] ActionAid International Africa (2005), Another Africa is Imperative. ActionAid International Africa Strategic Plan 2005-2010

[iii] This categorization is an adaptation of categorization by Ramesh Sighn, CEO of ActionAid International at the Induction of New Country Directors in Johanesburg in December, 2004.

[iv] Igbuzor, O. (2005), Civil Society Engagement with the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC): A Critical Appraisal. A paper Presented at the Nigeria Political Science Association (NPSA) 23rd General Assembly held at the university of Nigeria, Nsukka in August, 2005

[v] UNDP (2005) Summary Human Development Report 2005- International Cooperation at a Cross Roads: Aid, Trade and Security in an unequal World. P.24



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