AfricaSocial Affairs

The ‘Colonization of Mind’

Our conventional education system, modeled after the West and which we often take-for-granted and leave unexamined, could indeed well be a subtle tool that effectively puts us in a tricky state of intellectual subjugation and spiritual enslavement, says our Columnist Taye Negussie (PhD).

In its August 2012 issue, in a piece entitled “Ruling through Soft-power”, this magazine described how Western domination of the developing world evolved from the past direct physical control, occupation and colonization (in the eras of slavery and colonialism) through the barrel of gun to the present approach of bringing countries under their hegemonic sphere of influence via the soft-power of popular culture. Rule through the power of cultural influence aspires to captivate the heart of people with the sole purpose of satisfying the selfish interest and greed of the hegemonic power – hence the ‘colonization of heart’.

Together with the popular culture, an equally powerful and yet subtle tool of maintaining and perpetuating Western hegemonic domination entails the intellectual sphere that systematically manipulates and subjugates the mental faculties of people as typified by the West-modeled behavioral education system, thus, the ‘colonization of mind’.

The downward race to subjugation

Evidently, in most developing countries – the former colonies as well as countries that supposedly evaded the direct colonization of the past century such as Ethiopia – the core educational institutions and practices such as medium of instruction, curriculum contents, teaching methodologies, routine administrative practices, methodologies of knowledge creation and dissemination at large are all but modeled after the dominant Western behavioral education system.

To be sure, the educational curricula of most higher educational institutions in these countries are to a considerable extent a copy-paste of Western Universities. The educational texts and reference materials are entirely Western origin. Even local anthropological and historical books have been written either by Westerners or locals but with a Western perspective. Invariably, the medium of instruction is either English or French. And at times, fluency in instruction language may count more than fair comprehension of a subject matter. All academic researches are to be undertaken, evaluated and disseminated strictly within a Western framework. Even, those trivial educational administrative procedures and practices such as European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) as used in many Ethiopian universities in recording course credit sufficiently bear the mark of a Western influence.

Likewise, many elementary and junior schools work hard and fast to give their educational environment a Western texture. Witness the common practices in many private schools here in Addis Ababa that involve an extraordinary and unparalleled dedication to English language, far greater than any other academic subject, to the extent of prohibiting students to converse in any local language other than English; displaying foreigners in advertisements, and even requiring kindergartens kids to address their female teachers with the English honorific title ‘Miss’…, instead of using one from their mother tongue.

Ironically, the pivotal force behind this thoughtless imitation of Western behavioral education system seems to be the indigenous intellectual elites–themselves the fruits of the same educational system and whose world view has fully been westernized – who presumably maintain entirely uncritical and a kind of superstitious belief and attitudes to what appears remotely Western.

Unsurprisingly, this self-imposed intellectual dominion and submission initiative enjoys a huge moral and material backing both from within and outside on a selection mechanism also modeled after the Western system.

Needless to say, through an educational system designed in its favor, the West has now managed to impose its own world views, cultural dogmas and practices on the larger part of our planet. Evidently, this process forms the basis that aided its behavioral education system to assume a hegemonic status at the moment. Nevertheless, this is not to deny the West its immense contribution in providing some fundamental theoretical insights, technological inventions and discovery that significantly improved the lot of humanity. And yet, in my view, making essential contributions and imposing one’s world view upon others ought to be regarded as distinct phenomena. Thus, this piece mainly seeks to explore the latter.

 Power-knowledge interplay

As a matter of fact, the hegemonic status of the Western behavioral education system, more particularly Western science, has further been bolstered by a well-orchestrated ideology of scientific ‘objectivity’, ‘neutrality’ and ‘universalism’.

In this regard, a prominent French scholar Michael Foucault in a number of his writings asserts the strong interconnectedness between power and knowledge. He argues that the validity of knowledge does not utterly rest upon its truthfulness but is produced and maintained in circulation through the work of a number of different institutions and practices geared to protect and promote the interests of the power that be.

Foucault provides an analysis of how the European expansion and colonization of a huge part of the world aided to impose their system of knowledge on the colonized countries which they proposed as global ‘objective’ systems of knowledge, but which were, in fact, formulated from a Western perspective with Western interests at their core.  This imposition of knowledge took place through excluding other, equally valid forms of knowledge which were perhaps more relevant to the context of the developing countries.

Thus, he disputes out right the widely held view that characterizes the paradigm of Western science as objective, dispassionate and reflective of universal truth. Moreover, history affirms the fact that the Western science itself, far from being simply a neutral, culturally-unbounded and universally valid system of knowledge, it is indeed a uniquely Western cultural construct and historical phenomenon that emerged within the context of the radical economic and socio-cultural transformation that overwhelmed Europe since the 16th century.

Pierre Bourdieu, one of the few most influential sociologist and educationalist of the 20th century, also suggests educational institutions disseminate certain forms of knowledge through which people can be controlled. They disseminate ‘legitimate knowledge’, the knowledge of the hegemonic power, under the illusion of universal knowledge belonging to everyone.

Michael Apple, in his book, Ideology and Curriculum, argues a hegemonic knowledge saturates our consciousness so that every reality we see and interact with seems to be the only one. He is referring here to those organized assemblage of meanings, doctrines and assumptions formally or informally transmitted in educational institutions. It is through hegemonic knowledge that the control over people and resources become smooth. Accordingly, educational institutions become agents of cultural and ideological hegemony that mainly promote the varied interests of the hegemonic power.

Thus, it must be clear that our conventional education system modeled after the West and which we often take-for-granted and leave unexamined could indeed well be a subtle tool that effectively puts us in a tricky state of intellectual subjugation and spiritual enslavement.

Admittedly, some die-hard advocates of Western system may argue that in this time of globalized world the sole route to compete and survive is by virtue of being ‘westernized’; but, the success story of East Asians well informs us that it is indeed quite possible to beat and win in the global arena without necessarily being ‘westernized’.

 Taye Negussie (PhD) is an Assistant Professor of  Sociology at Addis Ababa University. He can be reached at:


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