Introduction to the archive
50 years since the publication of Walter Rodney’s critical work How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, African Digital Heritage together with Savvy Contemporary, bring you an audio archive of radical and creative Kenyans disentangling the myth of development.
The Development Myth – a project curated by Chao Tayiana Maina, Muthoni Mwangi and Mumbi Kanyogo. This archive is rooted in discourse by African scholars from Africa and the diaspora who aim to show that contrary to popular belief, modernization and colonialism did not boost economic development in Africa but rather interrupted it. They highlight the specific complexities and knowledge systems of pre-colonial Africa that point to the fact that underdevelopment is indeed a myth, or rather, a lasting symptom of an exploitative global economic system.
1. Underdevelopment Myth or Reality
Maureen Kasuku offers episode one in this series as a homage to Walter Rodney’s theorization of underdevelopment as a concept to explain the relationship of exploitation and extraction between colonised and colonizer countries, the result being a Europe that is technologically advanced with higher standards of living, and an African continent that is heavily disenfranchised.
2. Land, Labour & Liberation
In this episode, educators and community organizers Felix Omondi and Stoneface Bombaa show us how European settlers used the argument that Africans were incapable of using the land effectively to facilitate development – an argument that privileges commercial agriculture, private land ownership and capitalist wage labor over African conceptions of land as a communal resource that has the capacity to sustain everyone’s needs.
3. Arts, Culture, Education and Folklore
In this episode, “Ornamental Flowers” written by Anne Moraa and narrated by Laura Ekumbo (both of the LAM Sisterhood), the audience is treated to a soulful monologue that reframes colonial education systems as forms of miseducation that disinherit Africans of our heritages, languages, knowledge systems and our relationships with each other.
4. Community is All we Have
In the final episode of this series, “Community Is All We Have”, Karwitha Kirimi writes and speaks a poem that rethinks community making and building as a pathway for making resources more accessible and shareable – as a counter to underdevelopment. The poem begins with a call for the audience to participate in a circle/a portal/a ceremony – a call to pray, think, recall, sing, and learn together.
Our research was informed by the following main questions
A) What did development look like in East Africa prior to colonialism? Who created and stewarded these systems? Who did these systems benefit? What was the ideology undergirding these systems?
B) How did colonizers exploit African knowledge, labor and natural resources during the colonial period?
C) In what ways are Africans redefining development/subverting underdevelopment in the post-colonial period?
Production and team reflections
In this film, writers and curators of the archive meet in person (for the first time) to reflect on each others work and the overall theme of the archive.
We hold space for one another as writers, artists and performers situated in what is often labeled as ‘the developing world’. We reflect on the emotional and physical nuances of our country, our history and our place within development discourse.
Responses to the archive
We gathered students of development studies and philosophy to ground, reflect and share with one another our thoughts on development discourse as a whole and the relevance of this audio archive.
We delve into emerging issues in Kenya’s development journey, question the intention behind the rampant white elephant projects we see and attempt to unravel the neo-colonial myth of the development of the third world through international intervention.
This conversation shifts between light-hearted banter, serious contemplation and collective asking and solution seeking through freedom dreaming. The participants involved are Tamara Kahai, Harriet Ochieng, Japhet Miano, Mureithi Njaaga and Muthoni Mwangi.
The archive was launched on the 3rd of September, 2022 at the McMillan Memorial Library, Eastlands Library in Makadara . The event included a listening party, performances and multiple opportunities for us to collectively reflect on the effects of underdevelopment on Kenyan life and exchange ideas on what it means to develop alternative models that are more people-centered.