Where are African Political Scientists and IR Scholars?

Last week I attended the 54th International Studies Association (ISA) Convention in San Francisco. This is one of the biggest annual academic conferences on Political Science and International Relations. ISA runs about 1200 panels in 4days and brings thousands of PoliSci and IR scholars from all over the world. The conference is a forum for presenting papers on politics and international affairs and it gives a chance to listen and receive academic feedback from renowned scholars. In addition to paper presentations, there are roundtables on critical and emerging IR issues, meetings on specific topics, receptions, and many other activities that are meant to enrich academic networking and scholarship of PoliSci and IR. For more info about ISA you can visit http://www.isanet.org/

Personally I have been presenting papers in ISA Convention since 2009. The conference has been of invaluable value to my academic progress and networking.  Due to my research interests, I have been focusing and participating mainly on Religion and International Affairs circles. However, this year, in addition to presenting my paper around neoliberalism and faith groups, I was very interested and keen to attend panels on Africa. This was because since August 2012 I moved back to Tanzania and my interests on Africa’s scholarship has been rejuvenated. So when I took the convention handbook I started to look for panels on Africa. I must admit that my interest was to find the term ‘Africa’ before even the topic. To my surprise, there were very few panels on Africa in the entire conference program. If I was doing this statistically, I would say the number of panels on Africa were insignificant.  Out of 1200 panels there were only 11 panels on Africa.  I was very sad. I decided to look further so I can see who were the presenters on those panels. To my shock, the presenters were over 90% not Africans, and even those few who were Africans were most from Universities in the US, Canada, or UK.  I nevertheless decided to attend some of the panels and was, I have to confess, sad to hear non-Africans discussing my continent. I am not racist and I don’t have a problem with non-Africans studying Africa…as I my self did my research on religion and British politics and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. But I was just concerned that in such a big academic convention, African scholars are not there to talk about Africa. I keep asking then how do we expect to change the gloomy image of Africa if African scholars are not participating in such conventions?  ISA is a forum for knowledge development and dissemination, if our scholars are not participating in such critical academic spheres, how do we then disseminate our ‘own’ research findings on Africa? Who understands Africa more than us?

I have presented papers in other academic conferences such as MPSA (Midwest Political Studies Association) and CIES (Comparative International Education Society), which they, admittedly have more panels on Africa than ISA…but these panels are composed of American and European scholars who study Africa.  In 2012 I did a poster presentation at MPSA Chicago and I was invited into an African Scholars reception, to my astonishment there were no Africans there. There were American academicians from different Universities in America who are specialists of various African countries’ politics. From that moment on, I knew we would never be ‘independent’. These scholars produce knowledge about Africa through which we are told to base our policies on…because we still depend on aid from their countries.

I know other disciplines such as Economics have their own conferences, which I can speak about because I don’t attend them. However, I know a bit of the Oxford CSAE (Centre for the Study of African Economies), which has an entire focus on Africa and gives full funding for African academics whose papers are accepted, but even that conference is still controlled by non-African academics and that is why it is based on Oxford and not in an African University.

To end my complaint, I think African Academicians need to be more active and participate in such academic forum. We need to control the ‘knowledge’ about Africa.  We have to remember knowledge is power! For that reasons, as a Chagga saying goes like ‘ifina boo’ (charity starts at home), I have decided to refocus my research on Africa, so I have now started to think of studying and research on religion in Africa’s politics…I hope that I’ll have done enough research to be able to present a paper around religion and Africa’s politics in next year’s ISA Convention. If you are an African Academic please join me…

 References  (Africa’s Panels in ISA2013)

  1. Contemporary Peace and Conflict in Africa
  2. Responsibility to Protect in Africa
  3. Post-post independence? African political thought, continent protest, and the international
  4. The politics of International diffusion in Africa (these panel had scholars from University of Ghana and University of Witwatersrand)
  5. Social Actors in African Politics: Unearthing Patterns of Political Engagement and Interactions with States
  6. Governance Transfer by Regional Organization: Africa, the Middle East and Asia
  7. Approaches to studying Sexual Violence in Post-Conflict Liberal (Roundtable)
  8. Climate Change in Africa: Understanding the Implications fro Governance
  9. Regionalism and Norms dynamics: Gender Norms Tranveling in and Between the EU, Mercosur, and SADC
  10. Political Economy of Sub-Saharan Africa
  11. Africa in the world: Pan-African Dimension of Anti-Colonial Thought

17 thoughts on “Where are African Political Scientists and IR Scholars?

  1. Timothy

    Hello Aikande,
    What a wonderful article about Africa! why can’t all African scholars be like you? You are a very Intelligent ,selfless and patriotic woman, the one that can really bring change to Africa.
    Are you in Tanzania now? I would love to meet you if possible.

  2. Danny BYABENE

    Great article. Deep and important question. Will they even have the mean to see it and think about it? There is a REAL problem in Africa. I’m still wondering what is the exact and true origin of it … God bless Africa and above all, Africans …
    Thank you Aikande!

    1. Soraya

      Danny, we have been discussing about the standard of education we get. The University of Dar ranks 7th best university of Africa. I wonder how good/bad is the 20th, the 50th, the 100th, the 500th? If these university are where our scholars are from, part of Aikande’s question is answered.
      But the few who read, who write and who challenge the status quo can make a difference and inspire others

  3. Emmanuel

    Dear Aikande,

    I am very much pleased with your article. Actually, what you are saying is very true. It really disturbs me to find/meet a foreigner who knows my country more than I do. I also found myself in similar situation like two years ago.
    When I was pursuing my masters degree abroad, I was given an assignment to research and do a presentation on how mobile phone technology and its associated products/services has transformed the lives of the people in my country. My professor (he is British) didn’t know I am a Tanzanian until the time of presentation. On my presentation, I talked and stressed more on issues like communication (calls, chatting and others) and very briefly on mobile money (like Mpesa). After the presentation, he called me in his office and to my surprise he showed me some papers (there were between 5-8 papers) on his desk describing Mpesa technology and how it has become a success in Tanzania and East Africa. He told me that, It was his second week reading and researching on Mpesa. I felt so down because I didn’t know much about this service despite using and enjoying its service. And so it was from that day that I built interest on issues concerning my country.

    This is just an example to prove the validity of your article and that a lot of foreigners have interest and are researching a lot about Africa. Its about time we Tanzanians and Africans to start researching on issues or matters concerning our beautiful continent Africa.

  4. Keith Weghorst

    Hi Aikande,

    This is a really nice piece and it points to a big problem–the relationship between Western academia, research in Africa, and the incentive structures for both African and Western academics. I think for the “African scholar” (by which I means people who are African that do research about Africa), teaching responsibilities at African universities are extremely burdensome, the extent to which doing research (something that is the primary focus of many of these conferences) is really difficult, and with it, publications and scholarly prestige–precisely the things needed to advance in an African university to a position in which teaching responsibilities are reduced. This is the design of things like ACLS’s African Humanities Program–getting junior African scholars away from their University responsibilities to given them enough time to write up their research and further prospective publications. It’s not surprising to me that many academics who are African end up at universities in the West precisely for these reasons.

    But you’re also correct about the “Africanist scholars” (by which I mean people like me)–that we still have a long way to go sharing and interacting with scholars in Africa. Programs like APSA Africa workshops (any word yet?) are designed to integrate African scholars into the sorts of training and tools that we get in our PhD training. Lack of access to academic journals, training in different research methods, and more can be crippling to promising careers for scholars from Africa. Same with attending conferences and networking. But you aptly point out–who is going to pay for all of it?

    I’m not sure I agree that scholars born in a country necessarily more knowledgable than others about that place—I wouldn’t ask me to offer any knowledge about US politics :-)—but I do think that the advantages we have in our professional training and post-PhD employment environment in many ways balances the market and opportunity structure to favor non-African Africanists. Leonard Wantchekon, for example, may hold his post at Princeton, but has launched an economics institute in Benin to impart upon scholars the sorts of skills needed to compete in academia in the global market.

    In any event, keep up the good work and the enjoyable blogging!

  5. Felix Kyalo wa Kiteng'e

    I have to concur with you Dr. Aikande..Your article reminded me of some of my recent readings and re-readings of my favourite books particularly Jacque Depelchin’s Silences in African History: Between the Syndomes of Discovery and Abolition, Binyavanga’s “One Day I Shall Write about this Place” and also Fratz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth.” I was reminded of the number of African-themed forums I have attended where the panelists are exclusively composed of the following: expats who have had brief stints in Africa and/or western scholars who have done one or two research studies on Africa or African Scholars who left the continent 20 or 30 years ago and hence have little connection with the current state of the continent sit; dissect and purport to speak authoritately on the history, politics, culture, development needs, prioritites, trends and future potential of the Continent thereby hugely distorting the image of the motherland…so indeed you raise very pertinent issues on who writes and speaks for Africa and how we can put a stop to this inorder to change the narrative and the narrators..Can we reverse this relationship of domination and if so how? Can we address the western ‘syndrome of discovery’ that Delpechin talks about? Can the authentic African narrative actually be written and spoken of by African themselves and what do our nation states have to do to facilitate this (yet ackonwledging that this ‘nation states’ are actually colonial creations by themselves and part of the domination of the “Man”?) I would love to be involved in discources and practical efforts efforts towards this end.

  6. Kathleen (Kate Bomz)

    Thank you Aikande for this, but you know the most baffling thing is? it seems that these “expert voices” from elsewhere are more welcome than those of us in the Diaspora who follow, stay current and try engage on issues that affect us as Tanzanian. However, Academia wise, I feel its such an ivory tower, i attended the African studies Association annual meeting last here in Philadelphia, and more specifically i went to the Tanzania session, i was enamored by 1. most people in the room did not reflect what my expectations were, so yes where are the Tanzanian scholars at? but then at the same time, I was intrigued by the so many interesting research topics that people were exploring in Tanzania. I was then perplexed, I as a person deeply interested in all things Tanzania, HOW do I access this information? why do we not have access to all these studies, further more who asserts and vets these studies? it all remains in the same circle of fellow scholars and experts who then write policies on how to govern us, i find this problematic, but then again it might just be my qualms with Academia….”they talk to themselves” and the intent of the studies was never to reach the studied? but hey…just my mini rant and musing! I love your blog! we appreciate you!

  7. Patrick Maheshe

    Hello Aikande.

    All Africans in general and African scholars mostly do indeed need to actively involve themselves in the search for solutions to African political and other issues. The thing is, some of those who possess the knowledge still wait for aid from out of the continent before they can publish, share it in conferences or such conventions as ISA while other only look forward to finding a position with some western university where they are assured of a stable and rewarding living.
    African scholars should not wait on aid to share their knowledge and they should also not wait for all financial matters to be addressed by someone else before they can start sharing even in local universities.
    On the other hand, I think that conventions on Africa taking place in Africa would be a very big plus, as it will allow for a wider African audience. The added value of holding such conventions locally would be that solutions and reasoning in dissertations and papers will align universal knowledge with African values. I believe this will make the academic work more effective in addressing African society’s problems, as solutions will be adapted to local culture. I believe a convention/panel on Africa held in the West by Western scholars will somewhat have western culture instilled in it, especially when there are no African to bring an African heart to it. (I am like you, I am not a racist or anything, but I just think that’s the case.)
    So, thanks for the great article. I used to be amazed at how many books I can find on Congo when I Google it; which I’ve never heard of, some very well researched, others based on flawed stereotypes from colonial days. You have given me a big part of the answer as to why it is like that.

  8. Peter

    Hi, Aikande,
    I am always happy reading your articles. For this one, i will write few issues possibly that may shed light to the core questions that are in your mind. I will simply outline my pints to make them easy to follow:-
    1. Aikande your central question is very correct and valid. “Where are the African Scholars?” We are therefore required to work out an answer to this questions and not simply let it go to the graves with us!
    2. Aikande, Europe, America and Africa are so different in many ways such that it is insignificant to compare the two! they are so different in almost every ways. For examples, African politics are not same as politics in American or Europe. that why in africa we can not differentiate politics from national economy. So lets first agree that we are too different, such that comparison need to be what did they do to arrive to where they are!
    3. Aikande, no one cares about what is happening in academics these days, not in primary schools, secondary or even in college or universities. government is busy spending the collected revenues. Go to any university of your choice and i am sure you will have answers to most questions . The scholars you are asking where they are are there with no even time to spend with their families leave alone a good sleep! There are large classes up to 800 students with one academic instructor and very poorly paid! How in God’s name can this individual spent even an hour writing an article! In these Institutions you find people teaching in two or three different institution simply to be able to pay life expenses! So forgive me if i will say we do not have academicians in and academic Institutions but rather we have survivors! academicians are in politics, in business, in administrative government offices, in their own NGOs and companies.
    4. What to be done! Aikande lets start sharing and encouraging the survivors to go back into academics. lets organize small workshops that will shed light to these tired and frustrated individuals to believe that it is worth something what they are doing and they can do it better than that!

    Let us all share ideas on bring more individuals into academics instead of all academician in Africa going into politics, and work better for Africa.
    Until when the Government will realize that as a nation we need National vision and stop working on political vision we are then trapped here for good.

  9. eliud kabamanya

    hi aikande
    thank you my sister this is a good article and important for Africanisam, it tries to show how people need to represent their continent outside the continent. i have been in sad feeling of course by the youth and sometime elders of Africa to have the euro based thinking and love to have their life in European style.

    But this should not be my discussion what i would like to address from your article is that African scholars not only political scientist are not either liberated or not intelligent enough to debate issues partening them. good example is Tanzania formerly we had only one university offering political science studies and ofcourse produced a very brilliant political scientist like Prof Baregu, Prof Mutahaba who is the leading expert in public policy in Africa,.

    Currently we have other mashrooming universities emerging in the field of political science but their product in reality are not good as they can not perform.

    Another important thing to think of is who say for other and why? most of the foreign forum they have been struggling by the picture of intervening for African matters but the reality is in neo liberalism matters. it aims at color the African continent and its people are incapable of doing their things in themselves. but in my advise is that the foreign forum can not help and can not know what africans want.

  10. Emmanuel Kimbe

    I am sorry for being critical but I think most of our academic elites are “Posho-Driven”, if there is no one to send them there with an “International Package” they will hardly pay attention to it.

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