Public Policies in Africa, Local Knowledge and Alternative Models of Knowledge Production

General Information

Project's Coordinator:
Abdoul Alpha Dia (Université Virtuelle du Sénégal)

Main Research Partner:
Sylvestre Ouédraogo (Institut Panafricain pour le Développement Afrique de l'Ouest et du Sahel)

Research Collaborators:
Mamadou Vieux Lamine Sané (Université Virtuelle du Sénégal)
Awa Doucouré (Université Virtuelle du Sénégal)

Research Cluster:
Partnership in knowledge production: Eurocentrism and alternative knowledge

Local knowledge, Public policies, Africa, Endogenous development

Main Research Question

Is local or endogenous knowledge taken into account in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of public policies in Africa?


This project questions the formulation, implementation and evaluation of public policies in Africa, from the perspective of local or endogenous knowledge. It illustrates or explains in what or how the production of alternative knowledge to dominant knowledge is a condition for the transformation of public policies and development policies in Africa.


This project aims to question the formulation, implementation and evaluation of public policies in Africa, from the perspective of local or endogenous knowledge, as well as alternative modes of knowledge production specific to African societies.

This research is innovative because the majority of African public policy research does not take into account local knowledge in the analysis of the public policy production process. The entry through local knowledge is an innovative approach that allows us to question the planning and steering of African public policies in a new way. It makes it possible to reconcile the analysis of public policies with the concept or principle of cognitive justice, defined as the active recognition of the plurality of knowledge in science (Visvanathan, 2009), and which reflects a feeling of uneasiness in the face of the domination of a certain vision of the world, originating in the countries of the North, over other forms of knowledge, thus creating an imbalance.

More than half a century after independence, and given the importance or role of public policies on the present and the future of societies, and since all rival sciences must come together in a dialogical heuristic (Velden, 2006), and therefore traditional knowledge and technologies should not be museified, it becomes legitimate, as this project aims to do, to question public policies through the prism of the place or importance they give to this local knowledge. As the political definition of a problem always results from a collective construction directly linked to the perceptions, representations, values and interests of the actors concerned by this problem (Knoepfel et al., 2015), it is quite judicious to question the management of endogenous knowledge through the processes, actors and arguments through which African policies are established and implemented. It is clear that African policies continue to be particularly shaped by interventions dictated by considerations often external to national contexts.


This project, while targeting sub-Saharan African countries as a whole, will carry out an in-depth analysis of two countries, Senegal and Burkina Faso. Furthermore, local knowledge will be apprehended in the light of the disciplines of modern science (agriculture, medicine and pharmacopoeia, environment, mathematics, etc.), but also from a more holistic perspective, as defined by UNESCO (2005: 233), i.e. as "knowledge, interpretations, sophisticated systems of meaning accumulated and developed by peoples with a long history of interaction with the natural environment". Therefore, all forms of local knowledge will be taken into account, including those that are sometimes considered "folklore" or "wild knowledge".

Literature Review

On local or endogenous knowledge in Africa, the literature, although not abundant, is relatively consistent (Ki-Zerbo, 1992; UNESCO, 2005; Nkoudou, 2015). In their work, Aikenhead and Ogawa (2007), Barnhardt and Kawagley (2005) and Moussavou (2012) attribute certain recurrent characteristics to this local knowledge: it is empirical, socially valued, associated with a holistic vision of the world, locally situated, dynamic, associated with spirituality, regulated by cycles, relational and rational.

In Africa, public policy analysis is a relatively new field. The first research mainly dates back to 1990 with the processes of authoritarian decompression and political liberalization (Bruno Jobert and Pierre Muller, 1987; Médard, 1991; Bayart et al, 1997; Darbon, 2001). The discipline thus naturally turned towards the study of democratic transitions such as the stabilization of institutional frameworks and the opening up of the political system. It then turned towards epistemological and methodological questions (Engueléguélé, 2000; Toko, 2008). The omnipresence of explicit or implicit reference to Western tools and to the nature of postcolonial states led analysts to focus their attention on the relevance of tools and concepts to account for the dynamics of public action "elsewhere" (Artigas, 2014), rather than on the analysis of the content of national policies. Nevertheless, in recent years, a new trend seems to be emerging that tends to diversify and deepen the analysis of policies implemented by African states. The poles of attraction for research in Africa are mainly health and land tenure (Delville, 1998, 2010; Eboko, 2015; Schlimmer, 2017), but also the environment (Diallo, 2013), higher education (Provini, 2016), transport (Provini, 2016), and so on.

Public policies in Africa have not often been analyzed in relation to the place they give to local or endogenous knowledge. However, the idea of post-development (Escobar, 2000 and 2007; Ziai, 2007) interprets the North-South divide no longer as a sign that the South is lagging behind a supposedly universal norm embodied by the North, but rather as a sign of the difficulty for some countries or communities in the South to develop according to their own priorities, norms and values, in their own language and in a way that is respectful of their living environment. In other words, development policies cannot be dissociated from the place or role that local knowledge occupies in society and the way in which it is valued, including from a policy perspective.


The methodology is essentially based on the collection of primary sources and interviews with strategic actors and producers of endogenous knowledge. The collection of primary sources consists in analyzing policy framework documents, but also scientific studies and media sources (speeches, press articles, etc.). The empirical work is essentially qualitative, in the form of semi-directive interviews with, on the one hand, the actors in charge of elaborating and implementing public policies and, on the other hand, the producers of local knowledge. The interview approach, combined with the analysis of certain texts written by the actors, will make it possible to understand the dominant normative and cognitive frameworks that guide the production of policies and to better analyze whether endogenous knowledge is actually taken into account, or whether it shapes political choices.

Success Criterions

This project will be a success if it can illustrate or explain in what or how the production of alternative knowledge to dominant knowledge is a condition for the transformation of public policies and development policies in Africa, the limits of which many studies have shown.

The main results expected from this project will consist of (i) the publication of a research report and articles in scientific journals, (ii) participation in various scientific meetings (workshops, webinars, seminars, etc.), (iii) awareness-raising or advocacy with decision-makers (and in particular public decision-makers).