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Post-development and decolonial perspectives

Demands for decolonization have become something of a clarion call across various aspects of society and around the world in recent years. The Black Lives Matter movement in the US and its resonance around the world, the dismantling of public statues of glorified colonial oppressors, mobilizations of Indigenous land defenders, and increasing worldwide civil unrest against global inequality and the consequences of neoliberal economic policy highlight the importance of varying interpretations of what decolonization means. 

In this opening debate, we will focus on some of the main insights on decolonization that social movements and academics from different parts of the world have constructed during the past two decades, and how they are relevant to contemporary debates. Non-western perspectives such as “alternatives to development”, “post-development”, “ethno-development” and “neo-colonialism”, which gained momentum in the 1990’s as a critique to the rising neoliberal development model in Asia, Africa and Latin-America will be discussed, and put in conversation with what these concepts mean for global engagement and the potential role of “development” NGOs for advocating systemic change

Given increasing calls to pay attention to the "decolonial turn" within development cooperation, this debate aims to stimulate relevant dialogue bringing various civil society actors into conversation.

Professor Achille Mbembe (born in 1957 in Cameroon) is a philosopher, political scientist, and public intellectual. His research interests lie in the social sciences, African history and politics. More precisely, Mbembe investigates the “postcolony” that comes after decolonization. 

He has written extensively on contemporary  politics and philosophy, including On the Postcolony (2001), Critique of Black Reason (2016), Necropolitics (2019) and Out of the Dark Night. Essays on Decolonization (2020).  

Mbembe is currently a member of the staff at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and also has an annual visiting appointment at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University. (picture © DW/Stefan Möhl)

Els Hertogen is head of the NGO 11.11.11, the umbrella of the Flemish North-South Movement. She studied political and social sciences at KU Leuven, where she specialized in international relations. Before she became head of 11.11.11 in 2019, she had already over ten years of experience in the organization. She also has a background as a researcher specializing in development cooperation (HIVA - KULeuven) and the role of civil society (UAntwerpen). She has been an activist since childhood fighting against injustice and inequality and still today she is actively involved in volunteering work and international solidarity in her hometown Hasselt (picture taken by Mies Cosemans).

Prof. dr. Gert Van Hecken (moderator) is lecturer at the Institute of Development Policy (IOB), University of Antwerp. During the past ten to fifteen years he has spent most of his time in Nicaragua, working as a (post)doctoral researcher on social-environmental change and rural development, and previously as the country representative for the Belgian development NGO Broederlijk Delen. His main research interests lie in the global and local nexus between the environment and social change, transformative processes related to post-development, and decolonial approaches to social-ecological futures.