Discussing Decolonisation

07 December 2022

The Scotland Malawi Partnership is keen to facilitate and support an ongoing discussion around decolonisation: helping our members engage the key concepts and debates, but also helping them to take tangible, constructive actions informed by this debate.

Our ‘Discussing Decolonisation’ work looks to amplify Malawian voices to help catalyse self-reflection, learning and action in Scotland. This is in keeping with our joint Scotland-Malawi Black Lives Matter commitments and our existing 11 Partnership Principles, both of which continue to guide our work.

Dr Felix Nyika, of Mzuzu University

We are hugely grateful to Dr Felix Nyika, of Mzuzu University, for providing our first ‘Discussing Decolonisation’ video.

In his talk, Dr Nyika draws distinction between Colonialism and Coloniality, the latter being a set of systems which persist in the post-colonial world today. He discusses systems of hierarchies/power (genderised, racialised and capitalised), systems of knowledge which are Eurocentric, and systems of culture which privilege European culture.

Dr Nyika identifies epistemic violence (knowledge violence) through which racist hierarchical ways of thinking become internalised within Malawi, with Malawians feeling certain ideas, ways of thinking and cultures are inherently inferior because they are Malawian rather than ‘western’.

These internalised and normalised hierarchies allow inequalities to persist in Malawi unchallenged, with Dr Nyika giving practical examples including pay inequity for NGO expatriate staff in Malawi and unfairness in judicial outcomes. Perhaps, Dr Nyika suggests, Malawi was not sufficiently clear what it wished to be independent from in 1964.

At a very practical level, Dr Felix Nyika argues that it is essential that contemporary partnerships between Scotland and Malawi have an appreciation of these important concepts and make efforts to really unpack coloniality. Without this, it is too easy for the ideas, priorities and values of the Scottish partner to eclipse those of the Malawian partner, both because funds often come from Scotland and because both sides have (often unknowingly) internalised racial hierarchies. This pattern is reinforced and reproduced by a set of structures and systems which privilege the west. This results in asymmetrical power relationships.

Dr Nyika applauds the SMP and its members for looking to actively reflect on these important questions.

Active self-reflection:

We encourage our members to watch Dr Felix Nyika’s excellent short talk and to actively consider his below questions, both internally within Scotland and with partners in Malawi:

  • Have you considered what aspects of coloniality might be present in your own Scotland-Malawi link? For example, who (gender, race) has the power/resources and who works for who (capitalized)?
  • In what ways are Malawian ways of knowing and/or ideas given equal footing as Scottish ones?
  • In what ways is Malawian food, dress, music, and other cultural products treated as equal to Scottish ones?
  • Whose ideas, ways of thinking and culture is valued most in how you work together?
  • Might there be assumptions, prejudice and hierarchies, seen or unseen, which underpin how you work together?
  • Do you engage on equal terms?
  • Is there an equal/symmetrical power balance between the Scottish and Malawian side of your partnership, or is it asymmetrical?
  • Are there structures and systems which you work within that might reinforce a power imbalance?

Join the discussion:

We recognise this is a sensitive, complex and important area, and we are keen to adhere to our core principles and values as we engage this debate. We respect that there are different views, sincerely held, and we want to create a welcoming, inclusive space which values the contributions of all. We can all only learn and develop if we are willing to listen to and engage views different to our own: we therefore ask that all contributions are respectful, inclusive and tolerant as we facilitate this debate. We also encourage people to actively self-reflect and be willing to challenge themselves, asking potentially uncomfortable questions and thinking about very practical things that could be done following this reflection.

Most importantly, as with all things, we want to be led by our partners in Malawi. We recognise the significant risk that we ourselves fall foul, however well-meaningly, of imposing assumptions and ways of thinking from Scotland on Malawi. We want therefore to listen to a range of different Malawian voices over the coming months, as we look to better understand and engage the topics around decolonisation.

We hope to have other Malawian speakers share their views in this discussion: if you would like to record a short video, or a written contribution, please contact david@scotland-malawipartnership.org.

Or, as Scottish organisation/individual, if you would like to share your own reflections, learning, development, or questions, please similarly email david@scotland-malawipartnership.org and we are happy to include these here.