Centre for African Entrepreneurship and Leadership

The Centre for African Entrepreneurship and Leadership (CAEL) coordinates capacity building activities that focus on entrepreneurship and leadership, and provides opportunity for evidenced-based research and policy for Africa.


Book reviews

Book Review: Pedagogy of the oppressed By Seun Kolade

Author: Paulo Freire      Publisher: The Continuum Publishing Company                    Date: 1970

When Paulo Freire wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the world was in the middle of fierce ideological war. The iron curtain was firmly shut, and the fire of anti-colonial struggle was burning wildly in the countries of Africa and Latin America. Nine years earlier, the Americans had invaded Bay of Pigs, and Frantz Fanon had published Wretched of the Earth, shortly before his death. It is therefore a telling commentary on the enduring nature of the work that Pedagogy of the Oppressed has continued to gain resonance and relevance today, especially outside its (apparent) immediate constituency of political philosophy and activism, to the world of theory and practice of education.

The book itself is organised into four chapters. In the first chapter, the author explores the nature of the historical struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor, making the case for the pedagogy of the oppressed. In chapter two, he analyses what he called the “banking model” of education, which is cast as the favourite method of the oppressor, by which they seek to “deposit” knowledge, define the reality of the oppressed and contain their ambition for freedom. This is contrasted with the “problem-posing model”, in which both the teacher and the student are recognised as co-creators of knowledge. The next chapter then explores in greater detail the “dialogic” method used in “problem-posing” education, and the various stages of investigation. In the final chapter four, Freire examines at length the struggle between mutually opposing dialogic and anti-dialogic model; the former an instrument of liberation, the latter an instrument of oppression.

Freire sets out the fundamental principle that “concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization, not only as an ontological possibility but as an historical reality”. Both humanisation and dehumanisation are real alternatives for people, the latter being a negation of the former. In a classical collision of opposites, dehumanisation affirms and validates humanisation by negating it. Dehumanisation is therefore a “distortion of the vocation of being more fully human”. In the noble struggle to regain their humanity, the oppressed cannot afford to become like the oppressor, but rather the liberator of both the oppressor and the oppressed. The oppressor is himself “dehumanized because he dehumanizes others”, but it is only the oppressed, and not the oppressor, that is capable of liberating himself and others. This, then, is the historical task to which the oppressed must commit.

To succeed in this task, the oppressed need a critical pedagogy, by which they can objectify the oppressor and the world of oppression in order to transform them. This praxis- this combination of critical reflection and action- must begin with a process of self-discovery, first as members of the oppressed class, but also as bearers of the “image of the oppressor” which they have internalised as a model of being. For it is this duality which makes the oppressed yearn for freedom, yet fear it. It is this internal contradiction that summons the oppressed to liberty, yet tempts them to become like their oppressors. The conflict for the oppressed, says Freire, “ lies in the choice between being wholly themselves or being divided; between ejecting the oppressor within or not ejecting them; between human solidarity or alienation; between following prescriptions or having choices; between being spectators or actors; between acting or having the illusion of acting through the action of the oppressors; between speaking out or being silent, castrated in their power to create and re-create, in their power to transform the world.”

Given that the task of transforming the situation of oppression involves struggle and resistance, is violence inevitable? To this Freire offered that violence has already begun with the establishment of “the relationship of oppression”. Even when it is sweetened by false generosity, “any situation in which “A” objectively exploits ‘B’ or hinders his or her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression, and in itself constitutes violence”. For good measure, “any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence”. Violence as such “is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as persons—not by those who are oppressed, exploited, and unrecognized. It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only them- selves…”

Turning his attention now to the Teacher-Student relationship, Freire says that the prevailing model of education is one in which the teacher is cast in the role of the narrator in an act akin to depositing in a bank. The student, on the other hand is cast as “container” and “receptacle”, uncritically absorbing, and then regurgitating, the teacher’s deposit of knowledge. In this model, “the teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence”. The students, submerged in this reality, calmly accept their fate as justifiers of the teacher’s existence. This type of “education” is therefore an instrument of the oppressor to make the oppressed accept and adapt to the situation of oppression.

Problem posing education is entirely opposite. In this model, both the teacher and the student are seen as co-creators of knowledge, learned as well as learning. Here, “the teacher’s thinking is authenticated by the authenticity of students’ thinking”. The student is therefore not merely subordinated to the teacher, but both the teacher and the student are jointly responsible for the process of learning and creating knowledge. While the teacher may have attained a higher level of consciousness of themselves and of the world, they can only help raise the consciousness of others in an ongoing process of dialogue, not by “depositing” knowledge in the student.

This dialogic process is in clear contradiction to the anti-dialogical method of the “banking” model. The one entails a practice of freedom; the other, of domination. “Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing education regards dialogue as in-dispensable to the act of cognition which unveils reality. Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem-posing education makes them critical thinkers. Banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates (although it cannot completely destroy) the intentionality of consciousness by isolating consciousness from the world, thereby denying people their ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human.” In the dialogic process of problem-posing education there are “neither utter ignoramuses nor perfect sages. Only learners.

Paulo Freire says nothing in this book about which methods of assessment and examination is suitable for the “problem-posing” model, or indeed about how the dialogic method can justify the role of the examiner. Moreover, what is the place of authority and discipline in the student-teacher relationship? It is a curious thing, in this respect, that communist countries like China seem to discourage challenge to authority, emphasizing instead discipline and memorisation, compared with the apparently more liberal approach of western countries. Admittedly, this is an introductory, exploratory book, but there will be ongoing debates about whether or not “problem-posing” education can accommodate some “banking” elements, especially in the initial stages, say with respect to summative assessment of students. Nevertheless his central thesis is highly stimulating and thought-provoking, even if it is, in many respects, a re-invention of the ancient method of Socratic dialectics.


To grow the wealth of nations, fix property rights! By Seun Kolade

A review of “The mystery of Capital”

Author: Hernando De Soto

Transworld Publishers, 2000

276 pages

“The hour of capitalism’s greatest triumph is its hour of crisis”. This is Hernando De Soto’s opening statement in what has now become a classic of property rights. He starts with a brief description of the “triumph” of capitalism and the end of the cold war. “Capitalism”, he says, “stands alone as the only feasible way rationally to organise a modern economy. At this moment in history, no responsible nation has a choice”. So then, the “responsible” nations of former communist and third world territories embraced capitalism with considerable enthusiasm, following the fall of Berlin Wall. And wait for it: they came away with bitter disappointment. And how did the leaders and Capitalist America and Europe respond? With the same old “wearisome lectures: stabilize your currencies, hang tough, ignore the food riots, and wait patiently for the foreign investors to return”

Why has capitalism prospered in the West, and generally failed elsewhere? That is the Big Question De Soto sought to address in this book. Of course, 15 years after it was originally published, some of the claims are now dated, but the key ideas continue to gain traction in policy and development research circles.

De Soto empathically rejects the suggestion that “Third World” peoples are lacking in entrepreneurial spirit or market orientation. On the contrary, he says, the inhabitants of poor countries are highly entrepreneurial, and have such a ready grasp of technology that American Businesses, for example, are “struggling to control the unauthorised use of their patents abroad”. So then, again, why has capitalism failed so woefully in these poor countries?

De Soto’s big idea is “Property”, and with it the explanation of the inability of these poor nations to produce capital, which is in turn the “lifeblood of the capitalist system”, the means by which it “raises productivity of labour and creates the wealth of nations”. The curious paradox is that most of the poor already possess the assets to make a success of capitalism. By one estimate, “the value of savings among the poor is… forty times all the foreign aid received throughout the world since 1945”. The poor have things, “but they lack the process to represent their property and create capital. They have houses but no titles; crops but not deeds; businesses but not statues of incorporation.

At this point, De Soto introduces his “five mysteries of capital”, and these will be the titles of the next five chapters: The mystery of missing information; the mystery of capital; the mystery of political awareness; the missing lessons of US History; and The Mystery of Legal Failure.

The author now turns his attention to the phenomenon of “dead capital”, and how this is caused and aggravated by the lack of legal documentation and formal representation of property held by the poor. In Haiti, for example untitled real-estate holdings were, as of 1995, found to be worth 158 times the value of “all foreign direct investment in Haiti’s recorded history”. At the time of writing, De Soto and his team estimated that the total value of real estate held but not legally owned by the poor was $9.3 Trillion, which was “about twice as much as the total circulating US money supply”! The poor face great obstacles to legally register their property and businesses. In Haiti, it takes an estimated 19 years to go through all the bureaucratic obstacles to legally own a land! And what is not formally documented, legally owned, cannot be “taken to the bank”. It is dead capital, and cannot be transformed into usable forms to facilitate or promote economic productivity. The vast assets of the poor, because they are not fixed in a formal property system, are very difficult to move in the market. Formal representation makes assets more fungible.

However, it is instructive that the capitalist nations of the West have in fact been through the process of transition from undocumented and informal arrangements to legally documented property rights, and this formal representation has been instrumental for economic progress.  In Britain and the rest of Europe, the process took about three hundred years of tumult and turbulence, during which the great numbers of informal settlers and unregistered entrepreneurs came in constant conflict with the law. Ultimately, officials and kings came to the final recognition that the problem was actually with law, and not with the people. The extralegal settlers and businesses had come to stay, and the law needed to catch up and integrate them. Nowadays, the idea of fixed, formalised assets is taken for granted in Europe, and this is partly why the economic preachments of the West often fail to address the peculiar circumstances of the developing world, because certain fundamentals, including property rights, cannot be taken for granted in these poor countries. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, the vast majority of property held by the poor are untitled, not legally owned, and cannot be used as collaterals in banks, or in other legally binding business transactions. Millions of these innovative entrepreneurs are locked out of the mainstream, left to depend on scraps and crumbs in the informal sector.

The United States has, relatively more recently, gone through a similar process. If we set aside, for a moment, the tragic episode of land grab from native Indians, European settlers in North America were squatters who simply occupy tracts of lands, often secured by a few deadened trees at the boundaries. For a long time they were deemed illegal trespassers by the official governments of the colonies. After years of bloody conflicts between the squatters and the government, they ultimately came to formal agreements on legal documentation of the squatters’ holdings.

Paradoxically, a major obstacle to needed reform in poor countries today is the legal system that is not only unfit for purpose, but also resistant to change. De Soto does not like lawyers, obviously. He considers lawyers to be, by default, stubborn defenders of the status quo against the practical realities of human experience. In a sense, De Soto seems to be saying, by way of an old cliché, that the law was made for man, and not man for the law. A legal system that keeps majority of the population out official mainstream is bound to fail, sooner or later. A functional law should reflect the reality of how people live, not hinder or stifle human enterprise and creativity. Lawyers should support, and not stand in the way of, necessary reform.

As compelling as De Soto’s arguments are, it is impossible to shake off the nudging feeling that the challenge is a bit over simplified, and that his prescribed solution is a little over-stated. The challenge of under-development may be more complex than antiquated property laws. There are other institutional and leadership challenges. Even at that, his central thesis is persuasive: get rid of artificial, antiquated barriers and give people the rights and opportunities to make the best of their assets. Then stand by and watch them make great, unprecedented contribution to “the wealth of nations”.

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