As some of you are aware, I am currently reading Russell Bertrand’s perspectives on the impact of “science” on society. It is necessary, if one is sincere about removing the shackling effects of apartheid and colonialism on our students and staff in South African institutions of higher learning, to simultaneously cast aside or isolate a Eurocentric view of reality.
A perfect exercise to initiate this abandoning of Eurocentric lenses is to parallel African history with events which Bertrand cites as revolutionary in the history of the application of the scientific method.
I will address these in the chronological order as Bertrand did. They are:
1) the “discovery” of gunpowder and the use of the compass
2) the advent of cotton commerce and the Industrial Age
3) use of electricity as a source of power
According to Bertrand the discovery of gunpowder and the simultaneous usage of the compass to further western exploration were critical examples of the effect of the scientific method on human society. Today, no one questions the immense strides we have made as human beings due to these scientific innovations. But let us also consider the African perspective of these instruments. It was wrongful use of gunpowder which permitted first Arab and then European colonization of our continent and people. We do not forget those Africans who collaborated with European slave traders in the bondage of their own.
This leads us to cotton plantations in the Americas. Millions and millions of Africans were taken away from the Motherland to work the cotton fields as free labour, fueling the mechanization which would come to define the Industrial Revolution in Europe. So while the western world advanced commercially and “scientifically,” as African and conquered people during these processes, we bore the yoke and were forced to do the menial work, away from those events and processes whereby the scientific method was being planned, described and directed towards the financial gain of those who owned us, of those who owned our land.
By the time electricity came to be used as an integral source of power, the above application of scientific methods was well established in society, leaving Africans in a permanent struggle to catch up and apply science or its methods as a means of ending poverty, miss-education and inequality.
Therefore, the most important thing we can do in this post-colonial age, is to teach our youth and allow them access to scientific events and experiences whereby the power of the scientific method is placed in their hands. Until then, we will remain beggars at the doorsteps of those who have deliberately kept us as far from these practices as possible. This includes corrupt politicians who grow rich due to illiteracy and miss-education of Africans.