regaining control

African scholars fight to reclaim intellectual space

By Jonas Nyabor

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Posted on August 22, 2023 07:57

University students at All Nations University in Koforidua, Ghana.(AP/Christian Thompson)
University students at All Nations University in Koforidua, Ghana.(AP/Christian Thompson)

For the first time in over three decades, African scholars are collaborating to revive the 1900s movement for the decolonisation of African scholarship.

“We are not only here to renew those conversations that ceased in 1985, but to extend African studies to include African Diaspora studies,” says Robert Vinson, president of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD).

In Accra, where the first International Congress of African Studies was held in 1962, Africanists and scholars from across the world are challenging the dominance of Western knowledge of Africa at the sixth International Congress of African and African Diaspora Studies this month.

The new energy and commitment towards this path are necessary due to the worsening circumstances of Black people all over the world linked to issues of sexuality, citizenship, public health, and the treatment of African migrants inside and outside of Africa, Vinson tells The Africa Report.

“We are aware of the earlier pan-African conferences going back to the 1900s and we have never lost sight of that history. In America we have our own issues and we are re-energised for this cause because of the understanding that there is a larger Black world out there that is also suffering,” he says.

“It is important for us as scholars in Africa and Africans in the diaspora to work towards repatriating African studies,” he says, adding that the creation and dissemination of ideas in the discipline is important.

African sources first

There must be a deliberate move to source and cite African scholarly works, especially those pertaining to the history of the continent to correct false narratives told by non-Africans, says Akosua Keseboa Darkwah, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Ghana.

“We need to learn about ourselves as Africans and be intentional about getting our stories out there. Often when people are quoting in the media they quote global non-scholars who are white without making efforts to look for an African scholar, this must change,” she tells The Africa Report.

The struggle to regain control of African history through scholarship has been down to funding.

The global recession of the 1980s led to a massive underfunding of education, which greatly stifled African knowledge production and dissemination.

Sustaining the new momentum will require that the challenges of limited access to publishing platforms, lack of technology and infrastructure, language barriers and brain drain are addressed.

“Many of us were not happy with white-founded, white-dominated, white-led organisations. We did not feel that our histories could be told because there were gatekeepers who decided who could be on a panel and so we didn’t have access,” says Vinson.

Apart from taking the lead in mobilising funds to support African studies, ASWAD is supporting the production and propagation of scholarly works on Africa by African scholars and those in the diaspora.

Jean Allman, a professor emeritus of African and African-American Studies at the University of Washington in St. Louis told The Africa Report that technology can jump-start the renaissance. “It has already allowed us to break some of the walls,” she said.

“We recognise the racial landscape of knowledge production and must address it. Technology can be a good way to go around it. We are able to host conferences, and mobilise other scholars via Zoom, for instance.”

Women’s participation

As a lesson from liberation movements dominated by men, ASWAD is championing the move for women to be in the front row of the campaign.

“The liberation movements in the past were not so progressive on matters of gender and what that has meant is that half of humanity has been left out of the solution making. It is in our best interest to be fully inclusive and ensure women are leading,” Vinson told The Africa Report.

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