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Decolonizing African studies


A musician performing during the conference

A musician performing during the conference

For whom do we research Africa and for what purpose? How do our institutions- be they universities, professional networks or publishing forums – reinforce unequal access to power, opportunities and knowledge? What are our responsibilities as researchers and also as teachers to decolonize our work; and how do we do it? How do we connect critical theoretical debates around decolonization with applied best practices or new practices? What future for African Studies does this envisage?’’

These posers informed the convening of an international conference on ‘Decolonizing the Academy’ by the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Global Development Academy. The conference, which held at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), High School Yards, from 20-22, April 2016, drew participants from universities and Centres of African Studies in Europe, Africa, as well as scholars and enthusiasts of African affairs from other parts of the world.

In her welcome address, Director, Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, Dr. Barbara Bompani, said the conference was not convened to condemn the current state of African Studies or academic curriculum in any part of Africa, but “to provide an interdisciplinary space for interrogating the power and politics of knowledge creation in African Studies and to examine various issues as they relate to inequality and legacies of (neo) colonialism in our world, as we investigate how we can transform them in our work”.

The decolonizing discourse was handled by eight panels, including Pedagogies and Curriculum; Research: Method, Voice, and Power; African Studies; The City; The State; Art and Media; History; Activism and the Academy. It also included a roundtable on the State of African Studies in Europe, which interrogated the presence and purpose of Centres of African Studies in Europe. Discussions at the roundtable was led by Dr. Akinyinka Akinyoade of the African Studies Centre, Leiden. To enhance the relevance of such Centres and Institutes, the roundtable emphasized the imperative of making their work and resources more accessible to the African populace and African scholars.

The conference also discussed how voices and peoples are being marginalized from the academic marketplace and ways of making African academic institutions, students and the faculty that constitute them, leaders in dismantling unjust and unequal legacies of power. Among the major attractions at the conference was the Keynote Dialogue on Africa and its Global Audience: Information and Representation between Dr. Sean Jacobs of The New School, New York, and Ms Zainab Usman, a Nigerian doctoral student at the University of Oxford.

Panel presenters also included Dr. Samaila Suleiman of the Department of History, Bayero University, Kano, whose discussion was on ‘Seeing Africanist Historiography as a Colonial Legacy: The Nigerian Case’, and Dr. Taiwo Oladokun of Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) and Visiting Lecturer, Plateau State University, who delivered his paper on ‘Indigenizing Media and Communication Studies in Nigerian Academia.’

There was a general consensus at the conference that indigenous languages have a central role to play in decolonizing the academia for and in Africa. Other recommendations include the need to make changes within academia to improve individuals’ and groups’ equitable access to knowledge; the use of post-colonial narratives to enhance a better understanding of contemporary issues in and beyond Africa’s urban areas; the imperative of new methodological approaches to research in order to make findings more rigorous, more true, and perhaps more emancipatory; the need to learn more from artistic expressions-whether visual, literary, or performing- about how to better understand or represent political, economic, and social issues and use these expressions to dismantle barriers to representation; and how to shake off historical colonial epistemologies and constructs, which continue to define our understanding of public and private life in African societies.

Perhaps, to demonstrate that the decolonization process has commenced, the organisers invited participants to dinner at the 2016 edition of ‘African Food Battle’, a mini competition for African Restaurants in Edinburgh. The event, which held at Earthy Café, 33 Ratcliffe Terrace, featured chefs from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Libya. After a ‘heavy’ four-course treat and a combination of assorted drinks, including Nigerian brands, and bottled palm wine, participants from Africa may have left, filled not only with the ever-tasty continental cuisines, but also with the hope that concrete action will henceforth be taken to really decolonize the academy by authorities and academics in Africa, as well as, those with interests in the study and development of Africa around the world.

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