Needed: a knowledge network of African civil society scholarship
Posted by civilsocietyindex on August 11, 2010
By Jacob M. Mati
Three separate but closely related events in the last couple of months suggest that African scholarship on many issues of development seem to still lag behind, decades after a leading Pan-Africanist and the founding president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere called for Africans to “run while others walk” if we were to catch up in the development game. The first two of these events were professorial inaugural lectures in two different Universities and in two different continents of two African Professors and the other a workshop.
Professor Thandika Mkandawire’s inaugural lecture at DESTIN LSE on April 27th 2010, fittingly titled Running While Others Walk: Knowledge and the Challenge of Africa’s Development notes the debates on the “constant undervaluation of African research”, and the Africanists “counter-attacks”. Professor Gilbert Khadiagala’s inaugural lecture, aptly titled Ideas in African International Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg South Africa on June 8th 2010, laments the dearth of autonomous ideas that can furnish direction to Africa’s international relations. He attributes this scarcity of ideas, in part, to “the absence of solid intellectual leadership around Africa.” In the third event, a joint workshop organised by Trust Africa and ISTR in Istanbul (July 6-10), ‘African’ academic and practitioner participants underscored the importance of knowledge networks’ and networked knowledge and ideas in influencing the course and contours of African scholarship on civil society. At the same time, speaker after speaker, decried the wanting state of such networking. Many concurred that networking is a necessity if we ever hope to contribute not just to knowledge on the variegated realities of the Africa civil society, but also in an effort to generate powerful networked knowledge in confronting the pigeonholed caricatures of African scholarship as well as of the African civil society itself.
The same workshop kick-started discussions on actions needed for African civil society scholars and practitioners to come together and take forward ideas on strengthening and expanding the ISTR African regional network. A volunteer steering group – made up of Ronelle Burger, Stellenbosch University; Victor Isumonah, University of Ibadan; Jacob M. Mati, CIVICUS and the University of the Witwatersrand; Ebenezer Obadare, Kansas University; Richard Wamai, Northeastern University; and Alan Fowler, University of KwaZulu-Natal – was then constituted and is exploring various initiatives for the future. These include training, workshops, scholarly communication including publishing and a virtual library of civil society research. The idea is to expand on the capabilities and horizons of researchers and activists of African civil society as well as promote collective efforts and agendas on the continent.
Previous efforts to create such a network stalled because of limited interests from researchers on the continent. We therefore believe that if these ideas are to come to fruition, we will need the support and participation of each of us (researchers and activist) engaged in African civil society research and practice to come out of our individual cocoons and network in order to support each other in our individual and collective endeavours. If you would like to join us and share in these endeavours, please email Ronelle Burger at firstname.lastname@example.org.