Geoffrey I. Nwaka:
Using Indigenous Knowledge to Strengthen Local Governance and Development in Nigeria


Abia State University, Humanities, Nigeria

Indigenous knowledge is now perhaps ``the single largest knowledge resource not yet mobilised in the development enterprise''. For a long time African customs and traditions were misperceived as irrational and incompatible with the conventional strategies for development and modern management. But with the economic crisis of the 1980s and '90s, and the policy failures associated with the formal government system, there is renewed interest in the cultural dimension of development, and the need to take local knowledge and practices fully into account in the development process.Enlisting indigenous knowledge and institutions in this way is in line with the current advocacy of the minimalist state and the "enabling approach' as conditions for good governance in a period of structural adjustment and public sector reform. Governments in developing countries are urged by donor agencies, and are in fact obliged to limit their role to what their dwindling resources and capacities permit, to decentralise the structure of governance, and to promote partnership with non-state actors, including traditional leaders and institutions, the informal sector, and other organisations of civil society.

This paper considers how indigenous knowledge and institutions can be put to good use in support of local governance and development in Nigeria; how development policies and programmes can be made to reflect local priorities, and to build upon and strengthen local knowledge, organisation and capacity, especially in the vital areas of education and health care, agriculture and natural resource management, conflict resolution and law reform, environmental protection, sanitation and so on.The paper will question the uniform, single-tier structure of local government introduced in Nigeria in 1976 for both rural and urban areas, and review the series of policy reforms in the 1980s and '90s designed to link and reconcile ``the informal indigenous institutions rooted in the region's history and culture, and formal institutions mostly transplanted from outside''.

I will conclude with some general reflections on the indigenous knowledge movement as an appropriate local response to globalisation and Western knowledge dominance, and as a means to promote inter-cultural dialogue on African development.

Keywords: Community participation in development, decentralisation, growth with equity, indigenous knowledge, local governance, traditional wisdom


Contact Address: Geoffrey I. Nwaka, Abia State University, HumanitiesP.O. Box 2000, Uturu, Nigeria, e-mail:
Andreas Deininger, September 2004