Research: Key to Africa's Sustainable Development

Published on 20th June 2008

Sustainable development is very important to ensure better livelihood and food security, especially in Africa. Africa is faced with numerous externally driven policies that hinder development. Unless a pragmatic and principled leadership that is guided by research based decisions exists at all levels, sustainable development will not be achieved.

In the 17th Century, the colonisation of Africa meant adoption of new cultural trends,introduction of new political and religious systems and disregard of African culture. Unfortunately, there was no prior research to inform these decisions.Consequently, African culture has been adulterated, if not completely lost in favour of newly introduced ways of life. Political management in parts of Africa was based on longtime experience in conflict resolution. For example, Uganda had a number of kingdoms based on ethnicity and defined territorial boundaries. These kingdoms included Buganda, Bunyoro, Ankore, and Busoga to mention a few. The nature and dynamics of such political structures were not well studied prior to making decision on the suitable future political system for African states. A copy and paste approach to structural adjustment led to intermittent intra-state and tribal wars for immigration rights, border integrity and  natural resources.

It is not only politics that was affected negatively, but also technological advancement. While the West and now the East have their own original technologies, Africa remains torn between the two. Each development project comes with its own externally advocated technologies often based on development objectives at the source. Hence, over 90% of the technology used in Africa leads to indebtedness. Sources of borrowed technologies have a solid base founded on long time research agenda.

It is with this background that cross-culture and participatory research is very important for generating informed decisions for steering Africa to development.

Research in development management

Research informs management and offers packages appropriate for sustainable development. According to the International Foundation for Science (IFS, 1993), research has been a top down process with the top being the source of research funding-hence setting the  research agenda. A 1987  IFS report also reveals that African researchers simply regard research as a source of contacts with researchers abroad, a means of publishing in international journals and a source of revenue for the host institution.t  With the above mentality, research in Africa has neither been appropriate nor a source of informed management decisions.

Participatory and demand driven research yields desired output.Through involvement of all stakeholders, real problems are understood and appropriate corrective measures designed. If applied across the board, this approach would bring into force developmental leadership.

If Africa is to develop sustainably, she must have her own set development agenda based on real African community needs. Through cross-culture, multidisciplinary and participatory research, appropriate solutions would be found. It is these original findings that would form a base for decision making, which would pivot Africa to development.

Research generated development options ought to achieve planned objectives, but must also be legal, acceptable and in line with overall development goals. Development objectives known to date have foreign origin. Take the case of the millennium development goals (MDG) and structural adjustment programmes. For these to be meaningful to the African people, their relevance should have been investigated before adoption. Now that they are already in force, they  must be given an African perspective. Where necessary, Africans must refocus international agenda to the needs of the African people.

Africans central to development

Countries that have ably achieved development focused on their cultural diversity and values. African people do need to appreciate their own, self and with high esteem. Development starts with self discovery, appreciation, and subsequently development. African may have to take lessons from recently transformed economies such as China, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. Here change was ably managed. This was possible because they adopted their own home policy, development goals, and methods, organizational structures, using their own people and based on their cultures. The African people should be at centre of African development.


To achieve sustainable development, African people must re-focus their development objectives along their cultural background and aspirations. African leaders and development managers must be pragmatic and principled to effect that change. Therefore, there is need for research to evaluate and analyse the status quo as well as internationally floating development objectives against the urgent needs of the African continent. It is along these research outputs that management of African development strategies should be based. Until this is effectively done, Africa will remain underdeveloped, indebted and a market for developed economies.

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