Traditional [indigenous] leadership in Africa revisited as an institution of African Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Theme 1

Institutionalization of IKS in BRICS Countries


Pindai M. Sithole, PhD (Development studies, Wits University, RSA)

Director  & Social Research and Evaluation Consultant in Development 

Centre for Development in Research and Evaluation International Africa (CeDRE Africa)

240 Samora Machel, Belvedere, Harare, Zimbabwe

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The paper is a revisit of African traditional (indigenous) leadership institution in terms of its place in the production and use of indigenous knowledge systems (IKSs) and link to universities in Africa. To avoid misinterpretations which are often associated with the term ‘traditional’, the term ‘indigenous’ is used in its place throughout this paper.  Thus, instead of traditional leadership institution, it is indigenous leadership institution (ILI).  A conceptual exploratory analysis of African indigenous leadership (AIL) was applied in the discussions.  How African indigenous knowledge systems (AIKS) are passed on within the AIL structure is one of the aspects discussed.  Furthermore, the paper shows that African indigenous institution (AILI) promotes inter-generational communication and moral regeneration in the community. Since AILI has strong connections to communities’ cultural heritage and, this presents opportunities for universities in Africa to design strategies for academic advancement in AIKS for sustainable development.   Also, community members naturally respect the indigenous leadership institution and they often believe that it is a legitimate institution and the leaders are usually accessible (Logan 2008).  Respect, legitimacy and accessibility are crucial characteristics for IKS sharing and application.


Within the broad moral philosophy of ubuntu, indigenous leaders are custodians and enforcers of community socio-cultural and spiritual capital.  Granted, their role in the African IKS in universities has received little attention (Kaya and Seleti 2013 and Mararike and Vengayi 2016).  There are African indigenous judicial models that guide the moral fibre of society (Africa Dialogue 2012 and Schabas 2005).  Some examples of African indigenous models for conflict resolution and justice are highlighted to illustrate the relevance of AIKS in the African transitional justice s and development agenda.   In view of the current documentation deficit of IKS in Africa, one of the conclusions is that AILI is a ‘community indigenous knowledge library’ for community development and a readily available data source for universities.

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