Responses of Africans to experimental science

During the 1950s, African societies were still considered ‘backward’ and not expected to advance based on their own efforts. The persistent policy that ‘[i]t is the task of the more technically advanced [western] peoples to lead the less advanced peoples forward,’123 had produced two impediments for colonial development projects. The first impediment was that development initiatives seldom involved Africans themselves, except where schemes demanded African labor. The second impediment was that due to altered systems of traditional land use, the African peasants responded either violently, or by passive resistance. In central Kenya, forced labor in soil conservation projects and land alienation were the main triggers of the Mau Mau rebellion.124 In Tanganyika, the 1950s witnessed peasant opposition to government schemes such as soil conservation, forest reserves and national parks, which caused displacement of local communities.125 Local communities in Uganda resisted settler farming outright. Thus, enforced actions on the part of the colonial authorities clearly did not produce the desired results in terms of cooperation by African peasants.126

The emphasis at this time was again on large-scale agricultural developments, such as the groundnut schemes that ultimately failed (see Chapter 4). However, the schemes cleared large areas of natural vegetation using heavy machinery,12' thereby aggravating soil erosion problems. In the Kondoa District in Tanganyika, sites of previous soil erosion control interventions were the focus of renewed research that attempted land rehabilitation,128 instead of evaluating why the previous projects had failed. The repeat projects suffered the same fate, since fundamental, historical processes of soil erosion and prevention were ignored in the analysis. Similar outcomes occurred across East Africa.

Subsequently, regional research specialization fields were merged under the control of the East African High Commission that supervised the Agriculture and Forestry organization at Muguga, to serve all the three colonies—Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda.129 Even under this research direction, the subject of soil erosion continued to be the basis of the hypothesis of Africa’s environmental crisis, yet after five decades it had not yielded any better understanding thereof (see Chapters 4 and 5). As the end of the colonial era approached, discussions on the African environmental crisis shifted to the topic of general desiccation of the environment. This was partly due to the dry climate of the late 1950s.13c It was, however, not possible for the colonies to take a common position against environmental desiccation—perceived or real. The imperial research agenda was forced to shift focus again, following outbreaks of desert locust plagues in the 1950s.131

During the late 1950s, research and development focused on agriculture, while rangeland and pastoral research lost the edge it had had in the 1930s and 1940s. This was until Roger Swynnerton, formerly Director of Tsetse Fly Research in Tanganyika, arrived in Kenya in 1954 and prepared a report which, among other things, attempted to present coherence in terms of long-term agricultural development planning. Swynnerton also outlined the achievements under the colonial agricultural research and development corporations in East African countries.132 The core aspects of the Swynnerton Plan were land improvements, land consolidation and training of extension personnel, as well as the development of pastoral lands. As the colonies approached independence, grievances by African populations against the overbearing colonial administration became part of slogans prompting political and social change.133

Research and development in the 1960s

The 1960s formed a dividing line between colonial administration and inde- pendence of the East African states—Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda. It was a decade of optimism and new opportunities.134 The period showed a continuum, as well as discontinuities, in approaches to research and development that had been evident under colonialism.135 The countries faced challenges on three fronts. The first was that development was donor dependent in terms of ‘project financing, capital expenditure and technical assistance.’136 Since sources of funding started to diminish with the waning of colonization, it became impossible to coordinate research and development activities. Second, expatriate staff—who made up the bulk of researchers—were leaving, thus handicapping research projects in these East African countries. Lacking trained scientific staff locally, the countries planned to keep the research stations working through international collaboration. The third challenge was accessing international funding for collaborative research.13'

International research was sponsored by the United Nations and the World Bank to increase research capacities in the newly independent African states.13'4 The increased presence of international organizations such as the FAO provided additional funds and injected new scientific research ideas. The new international participation changed the research agenda by focusing on short-term plans. For example, the 1964 conference on organized research called by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (established by UNESCO in 1958), was attended by representatives from 28 African countries. The conference laid the groundwork for international organizations to coordinate programs and provided technical personnel to the newly independent African states to help establish scientific infrastructure (see section below).

The regional and local offices of the multilateral agencies facilitated two types of programs: those focusing on global issues, and those focusing on regional or national projects. The latter type of programs had lower levels of monetary capital and the local offices lacked control over the research agendas.139 When the funding periods ended, the project implementations were terminated, with few prospects for revival. Since the ‘multilateral agency model’ was based on a ‘consultancy’ model—that is, short-term visits by experts who departed after their assignment ended, often never to return. Consequently, the official creed of ‘modernization’ of independent states, coupled with assistance provided by international agencies, perpetuated the planning of development initiatives along the same lines as those that had failed during the colonial era.140

Again, development was not based on the findings of scientific research, and thus produced the same outcomes—repeated over and again, with little success. Contrary to the expectations of governments and donors, the development projects had ‘catastrophic’ impacts on the environment.141

Taghi Farva and John Milton142 arrived at the following conclusion: ‘The weak link between research and development during the post-independence period was heavy reliance on international funding without which many of the ... projects would be abandoned, leading to closures of the research stations.’ It was in this light that Lord Hailsham emphasized that ‘international cooperation is no substitute for [building] national excellence’ in research.14’ Clearly the East African nations required building new research capacities.

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