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