Man­dela Univer­sity launches In­dige­nous Knowl­edge unit


An In­dige­nous Knowl­edge and Tech­nolo­gies Ini­tia­tive was launched last week at the Nel­son Man­dela African In­sti­tu­tion of Science and Tech­nol­ogy (NM-AIST) in a bid to main­stream the tra­di­tional knowl­edge in higher learn­ing ed­u­ca­tion.

“This will be a spe­cial unit at NMAIST”, said the Vice-Chan­cel­lor Prof. Bur­ton Mwamila dur­ing the of­fi­cial launch of the fa­cil­ity, not­ing that the aim is to make the pan African univer­sity based in Arusha a cen­tre for in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights and al­lied fields in the con­ti­nent.

The founder of the univer­sity which started op­er­a­tions about five years ago, said although the tra­di­tional knowl­edge and tech­nolo­gies have a role to play in con­ven­tional science and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion, they have not been fully tapped for the ben­e­fit of the so­ci­ety.

The long term plan is to make the cen­tre a repos­i­tory of in­dige­nous knowl­edge and tech­nolo­gies where the sci­en­tific, cul­tural and en­tre­pre­neur­ial in­no­va­tions would be pre­served, an­a­lysed for dif­fer­ent ap­pli­ca­tions and dis­sem­i­nated to var­i­ous stake­hold­ers.

Launch­ing the fa­cil­ity, former Deputy Min­is­ter for Live­stock De­vel­op­ment and Fish­eries and MP for Kiteto, Bene­dict Ole Nan­goro de­cried the no­tion that in­dige­nous knowl­edge was less rel­e­vant and in­no­va­tive and in­fe­rior com­pared to the con­ven­tional knowl­edge sys­tems from the West and, there­fore, should be dis­carded.

“The in­dige­nous peo­ple know a lot of in­dige­nous knowl­edge and knowl­edge sys­tems”, he said not­ing that once col­lected, in­ter­nal­ized and pop­u­lar­ized, in­dige­nous knowl­edge and tech­nolo­gies can be shared by all peo­ple—in­clud­ing those in the West­ern world.

A con­sul­tant with the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of En­vi­ron­ment and De­vel­op­ment (IIED) and ac­tivist based in Arusha, Alais Morindat, said tra­di­tional pro­duc­tion sys­tems such as pas­toral­ism, should be sus­tained and that it should not be dis­carded in pref­er­ence of mod­ern an­i­mal hus­bandry be­cause it was use­ful to the tra­di­tional live­stock keep­ers.

He cited the tra­di­tional Zebu cat­tle which have sur­vival strate­gies to nav­i­gate and move within the semi­arid ter­rains as has been the case in much of North­ern Tan­za­nia un­like the ex­otic cat­tle species which have since been in­tro­duced in the coun­try.

One of the ad­vo­cates of the ini­tia­tive and Se­nior Lec­turer at NM-AIST, Dr Elia­mani Lal­taika, and said es­tab­lish­ment of the cen­tre was aimed at arous­ing in­ter­est in re­search and doc­u­men­ta­tion in in­dige­nous knowl­edge is­sues among schol­ars and forge com­ple­men­tar­ity and syn­ergy be­tween con­ven­tional science and in­dige­nous knowl­edge.

In­dige­nous knowl­edge, also re­ferred as tra­di­tional or lo­cal knowl­edge gen­er­ally re­fer to knowl­edge sys­tems em­bed­ded in the cul­tural tra­di­tions of re­gional, in­dige­nous, or lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

Tra­di­tional knowl­edge in­cludes types of knowl­edge about tra­di­tional tech­nolo­gies of sub­sis­tence, for ex­am­ple, tools and tech­niques for hunt­ing or agri­cul­ture, mid­wifery, ethno botany and eco­log­i­cal knowl­edge, ce­les­tial nav­i­ga­tion, ethno- as­tron­omy and cli­mate.

These kinds of knowl­edge, cru­cial for sub­sis­tence and sur­vival, are gen­er­ally based on ac­cu­mu­la­tions of em­pir­i­cal ob­ser­va­tion and on in­ter­ac­tion with the en­vi­ron­ment.

In many cases, tra­di­tional knowl­edge has been orally passed for gen­er­a­tions from per­son to per­son. Some forms of tra­di­tional knowl­edge find ex­pres­sion in sto­ries, leg­ends, folk­lore, rit­u­als, songs, and laws. Other forms of tra­di­tional knowl­edge are ex­pressed through dif­fer­ent means.

Dr Lal­taika, who is also an ac­tivist ad­vo­cat­ing for the rights of the in­dige­nous peo­ple, is the founder of the Tan­za­nia In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Rights (TIP-Net), a non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Arusha.

It was set up in De­cem­ber 2011 dur­ing a work­shop of live­stock keep­ers’ rights, tra­di­tional knowl­edge and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights (IPR).

Mem­ber­ship to the or­ga­ni­za­tion is open to in­di­vid­u­als, NGOs, uni­ver­si­ties, re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions and other in­sti­tu­tions in­ter­ested in in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty mat­ters and de­vel­op­ment nexus.

Dr Lal­taika who lec­tures on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, com­pe­ti­tion and ICT law, is the first re­cip­i­ent of World In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s (WIPO) In­dige­nous IP Law Fel­low­ship ten­able at the WIPO head­quar­ters in Geneva, Switzer­land.

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