Shehnaz Munshi, Lance Louskietier, Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity in South Africa
Over 300 participants, including 23 Atlantic Fellows, attended a virtual convening organized by Lance Louskieter and Shehnaz Munshi, between Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, 2020 under the title: 'Decolonial thought and African consciousness for socially just health systems: An imaginative space'. Their event was part of the Health Systems Africa Regional Convening 2020.
Lance and Shehnaz have written this piece about their learnings from the experience:
Scroll to the bottom to see three graphic harvesting artworks capturing the themes from the three days
The purpose of the convening was for African health policy and systems scholars (HPSR) scholars and practitioners to build collective capacity to engage in critical decolonial studies in order to develop counter power strategies that can inform what constitutes socially just health systems.
We designed an African conscientization project that takes seriously the humanity, wealth of philosophies, knowledges and cosmologies as worthy of inquiry, and as valid and important for our own healing and wellbeing.
Our project is for Africans interested in our own self-determination, intentionally transcending what the colonial project intended for us - to reorient African knowledge, realities and people as valuable and legitimate knowledge-bearers.
We created a space embracing an activist/advocacy/social movement orientation. Foregrounding our narratives, we made connections with thought leaders and practitioners in decoloniality on the continent to spark intergenerational and cross-border conversations, looking to black and intersectional feminist movements, as well as trans and queer movements. We wanted to engage authentically and honestly, making space for difficult conversations about power and the dominance of western Eurocentric knowledge systems. This means understanding the historical mechanisms of knowledge production and its colonial and ethnocentric foundations.
This was a virtual space for holding, capturing, archiving, curating, theorizing and connecting toward priorities in research, advocacy, art, literary or movement-building and further actions relating to health and health policy, and health systems. We looked at research, applying critical lenses such decolonial, Pan-Africanist, climate justice, intersectional feminist and critical race theories. This approach deliberately looked inwardly at Africa, not the North American and European frameworks that have dominated the field of health in Africa.
This project was inspired by decolonial, African intersectional and queer movements – for example, the Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) movements in South Africa and the UK. Thus, we situate ourselves in the history of thinkers, practitioners and advocates who are interested in, and are ‘doing’, decolonial work on the African continent (referencing thinkers: Stella Nyanzi, Sylvia Tamale, Shose Kessi, Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Mahmood Mamdani, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Elelwani Ramugondo, amongst others).
Toward the end of last year, we were excited to hear about the intentions of Health Systems Global (HSG) to curate and generate conversations, taking us to the heart of the power of politics, economics, social structures and technologies. We applied to facilitate an organized session at the HSG symposium (HSR2020) and were accepted. When the HSG Africa Regional Network launched a call for convenings to look at decolonising HPSR as a central theme, this resonated with our broader political project and we successfully submitted our proposal.
We had envisioned an in-person gathering that would have allowed reflexive, warm and open conversations where we connect to the visceral, drawing explicitly on our different senses, modalities and knowledges. Our bodies can think and feel and change as we nurture deeper consciousness. Like everyone else, we had to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of coronavirus and, with the support of the Atlantic Institute, we were able to curate and create a virtual gathering that allowed us to dissipate borders and expand our reach.
The support received from the AI included the application of pedagogy and methodologies of Atlantology, a framework designed by the AI. Atlantology is a liberatory pedagogical approach that acknowledges that everyone participating comes with legitimate knowledge, and holds education and learning as instruments to realise freedom. It encourages critical and creative thinking and participation. Tanya Charles, the Atlantic Institute’s Program and Impact Lead and Senior Fellow Engagement Lead, created an affirming holding space, which she held with integrity and care. In negotiating the planning of the convening, she was honest about the parameters, yet managed to spark our imagination so we could realize our profound dreams and possibilities. We gained many skills, including relationship management, facilitation skills, patience, perseverance and professionalism.
In our reflection of the convening, we recognize the limitations of gathering virtually: we could not touch/hug, sing or dance in the same room and we could not share meals together. Although we have collaborated with people across the continent to increase participation and inclusivity, we deeply acknowledge that we fell short with representing the diverse languages on the continent that could have facilitated deeper inclusion and participation from many local contexts. However, this is a starting point for us and we will continue to learn, reflect and build as we go on our journey of collective solidarity on the continent.
Atlantic offers the platform for Fellows to dream, imagine, be brave and to disrupt. It helped us co-build outside the confines of the Western canon. Don't be apprehensive to reach out, connect and show up for gatherings of fellow Fellows to share ideas and resources. Use every connection with Fellows as a deep privilege, and an act of solidarity and radical love.