Solidarity Remarks – ASAA Opening Ceremony
Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Zeleza
Prof Ambassador Ruthie Rono
Prof Martin Njoroge
Prof Amos Njuguna
Ambassadors and Excellencies of African embassies
My sister-president Akosua Ampofo and colleagues
Please accept in my absence these sororal words on behalf of the African Studies Association UK.
In my capacity as president of the ASAUK, let me say that although I cannot be with you today, it is a source of particular pride that the ASAA is taking place in my home city of Nairobi.
Not far from where you sit now, some of our most precious civic spaces for gathering and for debate are under threat, most notably Uhuru Park, Nairobi which is now threatened by an ongoing road building boom. Now more than ever, we must take our Freedom Corners where we find them and I am full sure that ASAA will fulfil this role for us all this week
ASAA will host over the next few days Pan Africanist conversations that will remind us of our best traditions.
We should remember that in Dar es Salaam and Accra, in the mid-1960s, it was students who challenged government authoritarianism and enduring neo-colonialism and were an important vector of political struggle both within and beyond the universities. It was students who provided the impetus for a radical reform of curriculums in the name of social relevance and critical awareness. At Dar es Salaam, an interdisciplinary first-year foundation course on ‘Economic and Social Problems of East Africa’ was developed first in the Law Faculty, and then taught across the university.
I have often wondered what that generation of scholars make of our contemporary debates about decolonising the university. The great legal academic and public intellectual Issa Shivji provided something of a response recently when he remarked: ‘In our political struggles we did not talk about decolonisation. We talked about liberation. The liberation process does not stop after the end of colonialism. It goes on.’
I hope that these next three days will be a chance to reflect on the ongoing work of liberation and of our contribution to it by our intellectual labour. We must consolidate and build upon African traditions of scholarship and publishing that will be visible at ASAA. I am thinking of the work of CODESRIA in fostering south-south scholarship that does not take Europe and the United States to be obligatory points of passage but instead promotes pan-African ideals in the Academy. And the pathbreaking work of African publishers such as Mkuki na Nyota who time and again and in the face of deep structural factors that militate against African publishing, bring to us important books written by our greatest thinkers.
The conference will be also a celebration of fearlessness. I am especially pleased that Ndirangu Wachanga’s documentary on the life and contribution of our own Micere Mugo will be screened at the conference. My fellow lawyers, Chief Justice Emeritus Willy Mutunga and Paul Muite will be amongst those taking part in the panel discussion. I expect that the documentary and discussion will constitute a reminder of earlier generations of scholarship to which we owe a great debt and on which we must build in our continuing work.
I would like to end by saying that I see this conference as a rejoinder to those who imagine that as African scholars we rise from our beds each morning in anticipation of emails inviting us to take part in research projects conceived in the global north. We are, and will continue to be, able to set our intellectual agendas, honour our scholarly traditions and prepare the academy for what Ayi Kwei Armah might have described as the beautfyul books, papers and ideas which are not yet born.
I hope ASAA will over the next few days be your Freedom Corner and a place for reflecting together on the ongoing struggle that Atieno-Odhiambo characterised as African struggles for civil liberties and human rights, for democratic participation and workers’ rights, for spiritual space, elective representation and civic responsibility.
My thanks to my ASAUK colleague Ini Dele-Adedeji for reading these remarks and please allow me to extend to you all a warm welcome to your sister association, ASAUK, whose biennial conference to be held in Cardiff in September 2020. We look forward to welcoming you to Wales and we will do all we can to play our part in continuing the conversations and friendships you will enjoy in Nairobi this week.
I wish you all a happy and collegiate ASAA.
Prof Ambreena Manji
President, African Studies Association UK