Zimbabwe needs indigenous knowledge to solve its problems: Lessons learnt after years of struggle but its never too late.

Omega Ndlovu.

 An intern at the National University of Science and Technology,Zimbabwe; Libraries and also, A student of Bachelor of Science Hons Degree in Library and Information Science at the National University of Science and Technology,Zimbabwe; Department of Library and information Science.

The knowledge management projected goals and outcomes in indigenous Zimbabwe cannot be a dream coming true if indigenous knowledge systems are still ignored and labelled primitive and outdated. This paper will surprisingly prove to us that what we call primitive and rejected it is what we need for our sustainable development in an indigenous Zimbabwe. The definition of indigenous knowledge will be provided and distinguished from scientific knowledge. The paper will also highlight the importance of indigenous knowledge in local level decision making and sustainable development.

Definition: Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. This means that it is knowledge that is unique to a Zimbabwean society and possessed by Zimbabweans as the indigenous dwellers of the land.   It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural-resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities. There is no formal education or university enrollment to gain this knowledge and it is that knowledge that an old man in rural Zimbabwe has and is useful for agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural-resource management, and a host of other activities. Other names for it includes: “local knowledge”, “folk knowledge”, “traditional wisdom” or “traditional science” (UNESCO, 2010). The knowledge is passed from generation to generation, usually by word of mouth and  cultural rituals and has been the basis of range of activities that sustain societies in many parts of the world.

Indigenous knowledge Vs Science:  “Sophisticated  knowledge of the natural world [indigenous knowledge] is not confined to science. Human societies all across the world have developed rich sets of experiences and explanations relating to the environments they live in”, (UNESCO, 2010). These are referred to as traditional ecological knowledge or indigenous knowledge. Indigenous Knowledge contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. Indigenous knowledge encompasses the sophisticated arrays of information, understandings and interpretations that guide human societies around the globe in their innumerable interactions with the natural milieu: in agriculture and animal husbandry, hunting, fishing and gathering, struggles against disease and injury, naming and explanation of phenomena, and strategies to cope with fluctuating environments. It is so amazing that all this amazing knowledge is possessed by indigenous people who knows how to live sustainable and they generated it from the exposure to their unique environments not from universities or research institutions. The society gains this sophisticated problem solving knowledge from the exposure and relationship with their natural setting (environments) without any colonial centered education which give us knowledge which is not suitable for our indigenous problem solving. It is produced by indigenous people based on centuries of living close to nature, therefore gaining understanding of the properties of plants and animals, techniques for using and managing ecosystems and their functions in detail. In general, indigenous knowledge is that knowledge that people develop based on their close exposure to nature while scientific knowledge is produced at school, universities and research institutions and is not indigenous settings oriented; hence unsuitable crippled to solve indigenous problems of Zimbabwe.

Knowledge for all: The question is that since indigenous knowledge is gained just from exposure to nature not university education, Can we safely conclude that even those who do not have degrees are scholars and intellectuals? The answer is yes and they are more accurate scholars with best decisions for indigenous problems. The indigenous knowledge is also an intellectual property which is more relevant to solve indigenous problems than scientific knowledge which has been brought to us Zimbabweans by foreigners (strangers), who claim theirs is the best but it has proven to be useless when it comes to our indigenous problem solving. Indigenous knowledge is usually possessed by community since it is not capitalist in nature like the knowledge attained and produced from universities. It is owned by communities which produce it and hence a knowledge for all. However there is a crucial question on what can be done to address the issues of indigenous knowledge intellectual property, piracy and cyber crime. This is so because most of our indigenous knowledge has been pirated to the West in fields of medicine, Agriculture and education which they have colonised our minds so we leave our precious knowledge and claim it to be anti-Christian (sisithi ngamasiko kodwa bona baluthatha lolulwazi balubisa sokungabodokotela abasebenzisa izihlahla ezifanayo besenza amaphilisi lomuthi bekufundiswe ngabokhokho bethu abangazange baye esikolo kodwa belolwazi olujulileyo). The very same knowledge abasifundise ukuthi ngamasiko angalungelanga amakrestu, we left it and adopted the acquiring of scientific knowledge in a lifelong struggle paying sums of fees however, they are surprisingly carrying (pirating) it in volumes to archive it in their university library repositories only to bring it back to us being expensive and coiled in alphabet letters (writing) in books and fed to their Christian professors. Oh us colonial mentalised Zimbabweans, its time to claim back our mind liberation and also demand our pirated knowledge back home.

Zimbabwe needs Indigenous knowledge: On previous publication we realised that, “those of us who will be underdeveloped in this information age, are those who will come to information and knowledge management late”. This paper will also enlighten us that those who are already underdeveloped are those who ignored their indigenous knowledge and embrace useless scientific knowledge which is not relevant to solve indigenous problems. Zimbabwe is not an exception on this as through colonisation, it lost its indigenous knowledge and enrolled all of its people to scientific knowledge which has since proven to be a failure in addressing local challenges and problems. For example, Zimbabwe is lauded the country with highest literacy rate in Africa and beyond but it is the most poor country in the world because that literacy is scientific and is not capable of solving local problems on local level decision making. Because of this, I can safely call that Zimbabwe needs to go back to its indigenous knowledge which is the only decision aid relevant for our local/ indigenous problems that has led to our underdevelopment and also made us vulnerable capitalism and we became dependent to the West: the father of Zimbabwe sufferings. We also lost indigenous languages which are the best mediums of communicating the precious indigenous knowledge. We have lost an intellectual heritage but its never too late for our committed information professionals to trace it and bring it back home where we need it now in the chaotic country than ever before.

Principles of Indigenous knowledge which shows Zimbabwe needs it:

The writer will touch only two principles but they are about six of them. These two are just an introduction to the upcoming post where we go deep into principles of indigenous knowledge that shows we need it in Zimbabwe to solve our problems than to boast on foreign university knowledge which has always failed us. However, universities must remain and re-align their curriculum to indigenous local problem solving driven knowledge.

  1. Indigenous knowledge is knowing the country: It covers knowledge of the environment and the relationship between things (environmental organisms). There is no a better decision than the one made by someone who knows the environment under which the decision is made. The indigenous knowledge can help us in Zimbabwe to make sustainable decisions in any sphere of our lives based on our knowledge of the country’s environment which is nothing but indigenous knowledge. Knowing the environment will enable us to make decisions which are environmental friendly to our country hence sustainable development coming true.
  2. Indigenous knowledge is holistic: Can not be separated from people who hold it. It is rooted in the spiritual health, culture and language of the people. It is a way of life. Our indigenous knowledge in Zimbabwe cannot be separated from us and the invasion of our language meant a loss of ever important medium of communicating indigenous knowledge. In the light of this, how can we expect foreign knowledge obtained from universities to be separated from its people and solve our indigenous problems?. This will be just a dream because we need indigenous knowledge to work here in Zimbabwe where it has been created and suitable for or sustainability.

The principles of indigenous knowledge and their applicability to solve Zimbabwean problems will be extended and widely explained in the next post. This post has simple defined indigenous knowledge systems in Zimbabwe, differentiated indigenous knowledge from scientific (university knowledge). It has also outlined why we need indigenous knowledge which is used by the west yet through church they claim we should leave it because its evil. What is evil to take the leaves of a tree and heal your brother and taking the same leaves and turn them into very expensive drugs and medicine.? The question will be answered in this blog or it has been answered already.



As information scientists, we are called upon to be data stewards who will manage our society memory. This can only be achieved through proficient management of both tacit and explicit knowledge of our communities and society and preserve it to the next generation: either by recording it down or by facilitating actions and oral transmissions capabilities since our society is more of oralate than literate. In the light of this, not even an iota of useful knowledge  will be lost if those who are called information workers strongly practice knowledge management. The 21st century is an information age which has emerged with the knowledge society and knowledge economy where knowledge/information flow and sanitation is greatly driven by information workers. The blog is aimed at exploring the need for information/knowledge management in the field of library and information science as well as in other information fields. It is projected that following  the blog will enable change of perceptions on knowledge management which is fairly a new term yet to be understood and encourage engagement to the phenomena by our information workers.

“Lets remember that, those of us who were called underdeveloped are those who came into the industrialization very late. However this also mirrors that those of us who will be underdeveloped in this information age, are those who will come to information and knowledge management late”

In this information age, it is not because of who you are that makes you successful, but what determines your success is what you know and only this can be pumped into our knowledge base by the knowledge managers and data stewards of the century (librarians and other information workers).

This is an introduction of the series on Knowledge management issues in Zimbabwe. Just follow, learn, share, and practice. Wish you a nice following and engagement as we establish a strong knowledge management forum in our nation as a whole.

By Omega Ndlovu: An intern at the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe Libraries; also a student at the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe in the Department of Library and Information science.