Vol. V, no. 1 (Winter 1997-98): African Studies.

Table of contents


Editorial: African Studies

by Prof. Gloria T Emeagwali

Chief Editor of Africa Update

In a previous issue of Africa Update we examined some of the methodologies associated with the study of Africa. It was argued that the eurocentric agenda dominates discourse, and that strategies of deception coexist with well-meaning interpretations.

To some extent this issue expands on the previous discussion, but we also go beyond it to examine some of the institutional structures which prevail in three regions of the world, namely, the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and Africa itself.

Dr Vladimir Shubin, the Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, points out in his contribution that Northeast Africa was the initial focus of Russian Africanists but this interest has expanded to include the entire continent in terms of a wide range of social and economic issues, including gender relations, the economic crisis in the era of IMF/ World Bank Structural Adjustment and the role of Africa in the world civiliization process.

The state of African Studies in the former Soviet Union differs in many respects from that of the United Kingdom,where, according to Tayo Oke, academic study is 'frozen in an imperial time capsule'. Dr Oke, who teaches at the London-Guildhall University, points out that the study of Africa takes place in institutions which seem to be fascinated by the 'primitive' and the 'tribal'- a mindset which hampers the development of genuinely objective analysis. Oke offers a penetrating insight into some of the irrationalities and misconceptions associated with African Studies in the United Kingdom, such as the illogical exclusion of certain regions.

The Akodi Afrika Center was begun in 1982 at Iffe-Ijumu, Ilorin, Nigeria by Ade Obayemi, the former Director of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments.Unlike other centers of African Studies in Africa, Akodi Afrika is the product of an individual initiative. It aims at complimenting the federal universities. Dr Olayemi Akinwumi informs us of the achievements of the Center since its inception and the role it has played in the context of African Studies.

We thank the contributors to this issue of Africa Update for responding to our requests and providing valuable insights into the subject. It would be interesting to see the extent to which the American model differs from the British and the extent to which the former Soviet Union differs from them both, in terms of attitudes and orientation.We intend to pursue these issues in the future.

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African Studies in Russia

by Dr. Vladimir Shubin,

Deputy Director, Institute for African Studies

Russian Academy of Sciences,

Moscow

The history of African Studies in Russia goes back to the 19th century. Traditionally two fields were most developed - Egyptology and Ethiopian Studies. Several Russian explorers travelled to East Africa and the Horn of Africa at the end of that century. After the 1917 revolution more attention was paid to the anticolonial struggle of the African peoples and the workers' movement. The first centers of African Studies were created in the early 1930s in Moscow as an African cabinet in the short-lived Scientific Research Association of Study of National and Colonial Problems and the African Section of the so called Communist University of the Toiling Peoples of the East.

In 1945 the Department of African Languages was founded at the Leningrad (St Petersburg) State University, followed by the African Section in the Institute of Ethnography and the African Department in the Institute for Oriental Studies. The process of rapid develop ment of African Studies in the then USSR in the 1950s when the African continent was coming to the forefront of international politics culminated in the creation of the Institute for African Studies (a more exact translation of its name from Russian would be the Africa Institute) in 1959 within the system of the USSR/Russian Academy of Sciences.

In spite of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the hard times that followed it, the IAS, headed by Prof. Alexei Vassiliev remains appar ently the biggest center of African Studies in the world with the staff of over 180 including about 130 researchers, most of whom have Ph D degrees. Besides it, African research is conducted at the African Studies Center of the Institute of Universal History, Institute for Oriental Studies (mostly on Northern Africa), Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Institute of World Literature, Institute of Linguistics, Institute of State and Law (all in Moscow) as well as the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (in St Petersburg).

The peculiarity of the Soviet/Russian system is that all these institutions and most others are attached to the Academy of Sciences. As to the training of Africanists at the graduate level it is conducted at several universities, such as the Institute of Asian and African Countries of the Moscow State University; Peoples Friendship University of Russia, Moscow; State Institute of International Relations; and Saint Petersburg State University. The course in African and Asian History is taught in all other Russian Universities and Pedagogical Institutes. Naturally, the staff of the aforementioned training establishments are also involved in Research.

Thus, although a concentration of African Studies in the capital - - is another distinct feature, there are African scholars in St Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, Tyumen and several other Russian cities. African Studies in post-Soviet Russia are conducted under rather deteriorated conditions. As other fields of humanities and sciences, in general they suffered from several budget cuts during last six years of the IMF-inspired "reforms." The funding from the state budget to the Academy institutes is a meagre 15 % of the 1990 allocation. If in general the standard of life dropped by 50%, it dropped four or five times for academics. The allocations for international travel and field studies are extremely limited. Nevertheless Russian academics continue their activities and even expand in some fields. In the recent years their work has concentrated mostly in the following directions:

General theoretical studies, such as the study of crisis in civilisation; socio-cultural inver sion in the politically fragmented polities of tropical Africa, the Arabian region and Russia; and political mythologies. These studies are in the Center for Civilisation Studies headed by Dr. Igor Sledzewski, attached to the IAS. Prof. Rosa Ismagilova recently edited "African Cultures in the World Civilisation Process," a book of an interdisciplinary nature, involving history, ethnography, art, philology and linguistics.

In the field of economics research has concentrated on the causes, factors and effects of the slowing down of Africa's economy in the 1980s and first half of the 1990s; critical review of the SAPs; evaluation of the role of the state; specific resources of African countries and the potential for their entering the global market and the outflow of both capital and resources. The names of such prominent economists as Dr. Mark Golansky, Prof. Leonid Fituni, and Alexander Neklessa should be mentioned. Social and political studies have concen trated on the social structure and political thought in African states, as well as the problems of democratization, which does not reduce to the introduction of a multi-party system.

In the field of history, special attention has been paid in recent years to the participation of Africans in World War Two. A great interest is drawn to research on the history of the Cold War in Southern Africa, headed by Prof. Vassily Solodovnikov, former Soviet Ambassador to Zambia. In cooperation with the military histori ans, a group of academics headed by Dr. Vladimir Shubin has launched a project on the history of the Soviet military and political co-operation with African countries from the mid- 1950s to the early 1990s.

Area studies have been carried out mostly within the framework of preparation of the refer ence books on African countries and by highlighting of the most important problems of individual African states, such as Algeria and South Africa. Research on the role and place of the Islamic factor in the socio- political life in Africa continues.

In the field of international relations in Africa, regional conflicts and the possible role of Russia in strengthening Africa's security is another major direction of research. An analysis of the present situation proves that the transition from a "bipol ar" to "multipolar" world had not strengthened security and stability, particularly in Africa.

A new direction is the area of gender stud ies, particularly the challenges of adaptation of Russian women in African families.

Last but not the least is the study of the specific features of African and Russian devel opment as they define the prospects for a restoration and further development of Russian-African cooperation. Unfortunately, in spite of declarations by the Rus sian leaders, the stagnation in those relations are not yet over, and both sides suffer losses for this reason. The scope of African Studies in Russia can be illustrated by some titles of books published in 1996-1997:

  • Africa and World War Two , edited by Yu. Zotova.
  • Benin on the Eve of the First Contacts with Europeans , by D. Bondarenko.
  • Crisis in the Great Lakes Area: Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire , by P. Kukushkin and D. Polikanov.
  • Evolution of Political Systems in Some African Countries: Islamism, Opposition and Tra dition, by V. Komar.
  • New Trends in the World Economy and the Destiny of Less Developed Countries, by M. Golansky.
  • Space and Time in Archaic Traditional Cultures, edited by I. Sledzewski and D. Bond arenko.
  • Tropical Africa: from Authoritarism to Political Pluralism, edited by V. Lopatov.

The state and prospects of African Studies in Russia were reviewed at the 7th All-Russia con ference which was held in Moscow from 1 to 3 October 1997 under the title "Africa in a Chang ing World." It attracted about 200 participants from 56 research a nd education centers of Russia as well as from 36 foreign countries (including African students in Russia). 185 papers on eco nomics, socio-political and ideological problems, history, ethnic and socio-cultural problems, inter national relations, area st udies, literature studies and linguistics were presented.

Apart from its academic importance the conference facilitated contacts between the Rus sian and foreign researchers. Unfortunately, they are hampered by the fact that most of the publica tions are in Russian. To cope with the situation the IAS has pub lished the detailed abstracts of all the papers submitted to the conference in English and is planning to publish the conference summary of proceedings in Russian and English. (They can be ordered from dir@ina fr.msk.su). Besides the IAS has in mind to start publishing a bi-monthly bulle tin in English.

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African Studies in the UK: A Critique

by Dr. Tayo Oke,

Department of Politics and Modern

History London-Guildhall University,

England, UK

African Studies, or rather the study of Africa, in the UK, has its roots in historical necessities. It started with the desire of British and European explorers (and missionaries) to document their experiences of 'the new world' and 'the dark continent' for the benefit of their compatriots in need of such information. Sec ondly, the partition of Africa formalized at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 heightened the necessity to 'know' Africa; the bedrock of Europe's mineral and raw materials. This situati on was accentuated in the last quarter of the 18th century in Britain by the Indus trial Revolution. Thereafter, World War II, decolonization, the Cold War, and debt rescheduling have all combined to force extensive (albeit) spas modic scholarship in Afri can affairs at various British institutions.

This paper argues that while the interest in 'knowing' about Africa is long and well established in Britain, it has not been matched by an equal interest in studying the continent for what it is worth. Aside from the few benefits generated by liberal ent husiasms to 'know' about Africa, the African continent remains one of the least studied or understood parts of the globe(Hodder-Williams, 1986: 593-604). Moreover, extensive academic study of Africa in the UK is bestraddled by an official mindset frozen i n an imperial time capsule. This has effectively turned specialists in African affairs or 'Africanists' in institutions of higher learning into academic refugees constantly making special pleas for acceptance, and living off permission to stay on compassi onate grounds rather than on well founded rights to remain. We shall thus expound on this argument by examining the preamble, institutions, subject areas, and then conclude by looking at issues beyond 'African Studies'.

Early interest in the study of Africa in the UK revolved around many voyages of 'discovery' con ducted by Europeans on the shores of Africa around the 16th and 17th centuries. Records of these voyages first aroused the interest of anthropologists, archae ologists, geographers and artists eager to build on their parochial interests. However, with the formalization of the partition of Africa at the Berlin Conference, Britain assumed responsibility for a large part of Africa, nota bly in parts of eastern, we stern, and southern Africa. Thereafter Africa was brought into Europe's intellec tual concern as part of the revolutionary project of enlarging Europe's 'circle of knowledge' (Willison, 1986: 2). From the 19th to 20th centuries, general studies of Afric a's history and social anthropology acquired a new significance in the UK, given the need for colonial administrators going into Africa to be bet ter informed about the territories under their jurisdiction.

It was this administrative need which vicari ously created the intellectual milieu for the study of Africa as part of multi-disciplinary subjects in British universities in the mid 20th century. However, the interest in the study of Africa remained an i ntellectual pastime for those curious enough to bother about it until the end of World War 11. The end of the war coincided with the steady increase in the number of African citizens (or subjects as they then were) edu cated in Britain. Their presence was used by African specialists in Britain to buttress their argument for resources in support of the study of Africa in British institutions, coupled with the fact that the war had severely decimated the manufacturing capacity of the British economy, making a deeper link with the colo nial territories more economically worthwhile for the UK.

It was for these and other reasons that after the war, the government set up the Interdepartmental Commission of Enquiry on Oriental, Slavonic, East European and African Studies headed by Lord Scar borough. His report published in 1947 basically acknowl edged the necessity to incorporate studies of countries outside Western Europe in British institu tions to underline their importance to Britain. It was also the time when world interest in Africa's natural resources assumed a greater significance than be fore. Therefore it made sense to make better use of, and so to know more about, the human and material resources which Britain then possessed in an overseas empire (Fage, 1989: 398). African Studies in Britain thus moved from the near exotic to the inte llectually fash ionable. This, nevertheless, helped lay the foundations for the establishment of specialist studies of Africa in some of Britain's most important institutions.

Institutions

Acquisition of documents and archives on African affairs were initially compiled in form of 'deposits' from the colonies by people outside the academia i.e. soldiers, administrators, merchants, mis sionaries etc. The African Society founded in 1900 was the first attempt towards the institutionalization of the study of Africa in the UK. The society later changed its name to the Royal African Society in 1935 and began the process of broadening its membership from the list of merchants and seamen, to include people with distinct academic interests. The Scarbor ough report, however, gave impetus to the Hayter report which recommended the setting up of a separate center for Oriental and African Studies, now known as the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, with well over 71,000 volumes covering a whole range of subjects in humanities, languages and literature on Africa.

This major development was followed by the foundation of the University of Birmingham's Center for West African Studies in 1963. These develop ments did much to assuage the misgivings of funding authorities over the viability of the study of Africa as a specialist discipline, and as Hopkins observes; "it also helped erode the scepticism of those who thought that the subject did not exist and could not be created, and by reassuring those who feared that its appeal might prove so successful that future graduates would emerge with more knowledge of other continents than of their own" (Hopkins, 1987: 93-101). Today, both institutions offer multi-disciplinary programme of study in African politics, geography, economics, literature, and anthropology, and SOAS in particular offers single honor degrees in most of these areas.

A number of centers for the study of Africa have subsequently emerged, the most notable of which are to be found at Cambridge, Sussex, Oxford, Warwick, Edingburgh, and Coventry. Most other UK universities introduce optional units in what is loosely calle d 'Third World' studies which embrace aspects of African affairs, and more commonly, 'political and economic developments' in Africa. The British Library is a repository of a huge collection of materials of interests in the map, music, manuscript and news paper collec tion on Africa. It holds useful collections for postgraduate students as well as general research materials on Africa. The Standing Conference on Library Materials on Africa (SCOLMA) founded in 1962, under the auspices of the British Library also publishes a directory of libraries and special collections on Africa in the UK, and its publications are open to libraries all over the world.

While it is correct to say that interest in African Studies in British institutions has continued unabated for the best part of four decades, the methodological approach adopted by many of these institutions casts much doubt on their commitment to the st udy of Africa as a major discipline. Faced with the pressure of budget cuts in their finances, and the sheer herculean task of studying a continent of about 700 million people spread across fifty three countries in seven regions of Africa, the universiti es have tried to over come this by developing and concentrating on 'specialist' subjects and particular areas of Africa, but it is a move that could be interpreted as a retreat into otiose parochialism. As a result, a great deal of the self-styled cente rs for 'African studies' do no more than focus on a particular region, and in some cases, a few countries with which they have long historical/academic connections.

Even a prominent institution such as the Center for West African Studies in Birmingham, in both its undergraduate and graduate programs, suffers from the ambivalence of wishing to develop a study of Africa and a desire to concentrate on 'West Africa.'. T he center has more than 30,000 volumes on Africa, and it has embarked upon a systematic acquisition of Afri cana since 1963, but it is interesting to note that despite this it continues to advertise itself as the center for 'West African' Studies. In a si milar vein, the widely read 'West Africa' magazine sees and rightly pro claims itself as a magazine which reports on Africa, yet it continues to advertise itself as 'West Africa'.

The sentimental attachment to 'West Africa' can be understood from the fact that the area consti tuted the center for European slavery. It was the most important Anglo-French conquest in Africa, and ini tially the British image of "the African" and of Af rican conditions generally was concerned almost entirely with West Africa (Curtin, 1964: 1-31). Britain's inter est in Africa has obviously extended beyond West Africa over the decades, but it is doubtful whether its perception has caught up yet. Conseque ntly, the approach to the study of Africa in British universities can be best understood not by considering the amount of schools and centers dedicated to it, but by looking at the subjects covered and in particular how they are covered.

Subject Areas

The phrase 'African Studies' is a misnomer to many people, considering that what is generally cov ered under this rubric are mainly humanities and social sciences. Natural and physical sciences are excluded because science has no nationality. The experi ences of Africans in the diaspora are also excluded for no other conceivable reason than geography. There is also a tendency by some to separate 'Arab Africa' from 'Black Africa', with the former being included in the curriculum under Middle Eastern/Arabi an studies. So, talk of African studies in the UK is in some respects, an imperial fob which still permeates the teachings in the subject areas.

For instance, up until and well after WW11, African history was not a taught course in any British university. However, the Cold War, and the need to train expatriate teachers in African universities helped sustain the efforts of a handful of British ac ademics struggling to have African history established as a separate course of study at university level. The offi cial interest in simply wanting to 'know' about African history constantly jarred with the academic desire to study it. This was amply demo nstrated in a frank con versation between Roland Oliver, Britain's first Professor of African history, and Dame Lillian Penson, a leading member of the old Inter-Universities Council for Higher Education in the Colonies, who opined, "young man, now that D r. Nkrumah is not in the room with us for once, let me tell you. . .while African his tory might be all right for the Africans, it was not all right for the British (Oliver, 1995: 26). While icy offi cial attitude towards the teaching of African history h as thawed considerably since the 1960s, the neo- imperialist undercurrent in the teaching of the subjects still remains a problem to grapple with.

It is thus within this context that the methodological approach to the study of 'African history', 'African politics', 'African literature' etc, constitutes an intellectual abstraction which appeals to too many needs and satisfying none of them adequatel y. This approach is pervasive in British institutions generally, and in the universities in particular. The pretension to exclusiveness that the approach embodies is at best misleading. Moreover, it does not make sense to insist on separating 'Black' fr om 'Arab' Africa while at the same time designating courses in 'AfricanStudies', which in any case excludes the Africans in the diaspora. This creates double dilemma for the student, for on the one hand, it hampers the study of the differ ent constituent parts of the African intellectual landscape, and on the other hand, it creates a belief in a historical identity which discourages detailed investi gation and analysis of the peculiarities of differing African societies (Ingham, 1995: 127).

It is partly these anomalies that UNESCO's General History of Africa (published in 1992), set out to put right with some success. The collection as a whole sheds light both on the historical unity of Africa and also its relations with other continents, p articularly the Americas and the Caribbean (M'Bow, 1992: pref ace). Despite this, however, there is still a strong indication in British universities that the battle against the older imperial history approach is far from being won, and it is hard to disc over any light or indeed any end to this particular tunnel (Rathbone, 1986: 29).

The same trend can be seen in the study of African art. Here, comparative study of African art history and its interrelationship with European and world civilization is overshadowed by incessant fas cination with 'the primitive' and 'the tribal', thereby hampering the development of an objective theoretical approach to the subject. What we seem to have is the presentation of a certain stylistic, formal criteria thought to be definitive of an ethnic group and pre sented as paradigmatic (Hallen, 1997: 1-1 1). If anything, this approach represents societies that are static and unchanging, which very few people accept today (Hassan, 1995: 30-33). The universities in the UK feed off the overwhelming desire to fill the muse ums with African "artifacts," "indig enous" or "traditional" art work believed to be more "authentic" than contemporary African art, which is seen as a pale imitation of that of their Western counterparts. The mutual reinforcement of neo-primitivism in museums and in the classroom is also re flected in the field of economics with its emphasis on lateral "development."

African economics is treated as if its only pre occupation is with 'underdevelopment' and its concomitant, 'development.' It is as if the only crite rion for measuring these two human aspirations are economics to the exclusion of other things. It is also an attitude which proclaims a pre-ordained destination for 'development' when it is clear that it implies different things to different peoples. The new development theory was largely motivated by liberal desire to 'do something' for the ex colonies, bu t since they were prime stakes in the Cold War, theories of their devel opment have been contaminated by it (Leys, 1996: 1-8). African 'development' is thus treated in the university curricula as an expression of European economic imperatives, and it is i n turn reflected in the attitude adopted by international financial institutions towards African countries. The question then is, in spite of all these pitfalls, can the study of Africa in the UK be sustained beyond 'African Studies' in the post modernis t age?

Beyond "African Studies"

As the start of the new millennium comes closer, competition as well as cooperation between states seems to be intensifying, especially in the field of the economic sustainability and welfare of citizens. Brit ain's economic interest is inextricably in terwoven with that of the EC.

By all accounts, Africa is no longer at the center of British economic or strategic interests. The refocusing of attention on Asia and Europe will in future mean a sharp reduction in research grants for African studies in British universities. African st udies is therefore likely to remain the fringe discipline that it always has been.

Finally, the bulk of teaching and research in African affairs, though pioneered in Britain and Europe, is now being done on the other side of the Atlantic, in the United States, which has seen the number of African academics teaching Africa in American c olleges go up in the last few years (Hyden, 1996: 1-17). The situation in the UK is certainly not encouraging. The tiny island, shanty town image of Africa pervasive in official circles, which tend to regard knowledge of one African country as knowl edge of Africa as a whole is yet to be overcome. From the above discussion, there ought to be doubt about the validity of an African Studies programme that does not address itself to the continent of Africa as a whole, including Africa in the diaspora, yet, growing pressure on resources makes such a formula rather ambitious.

Consequently, it is difficult to see how an argument for a programme of "Africana studies" which identifies land, history, and culture as it relates to African diasporic phenomena (Conyers Jr, 1997: 1) can be sustained against official disinterest in the sub ject. It is equally true that African studies as presently constituted in the UK would need more than the determined efforts of a dwindling core of Africanists battling against increasingly hostile odds.

Notes

  • 1. Willison, R. "The Role of the British Library and other UK libraries in Supporting African Studies." In I. Sternberg and P. M. Larby, editors, African Studies. The British Library (1986).
  • 2. Hodder-Williams, R. "African Studies: Back to the Future." African Affairs, Vol. 85, no. 341 (Oct 1986), pp. 593-604.
  • 3. Fage, J. D. "British African Studies Since the Sec ond World War: A Personal Account." African Affairs, Vol. 88, no. 352 (July 1989), pp. 397-413.
  • 4. Hopkins, A. G. "From Hayter to Parker: African Economic History at Birmingham University, 1964-
  • -86." African Affairs, Vol. 86, no. 342 (Jan 1987), pp. 93-101.
  • 5. Oliver, R. "African History: SOAS and Beyond." In Kirk-Greene, A., editor. The Emergence of African History at British Universities - An Autobiographical Approach (Oxford: Westview Publications, 1995).
  • 6. Ingham, K. "Makerere and After." In A. Kirk- Greene, editor. Ibid.
  • 7. M'Bow, D. G. "Preface." In J. Ki-Zerbo, editor. UNESCO General History of Africa I - Methodology and Africa Prehistory (Heinemann, 1992).
  • 8. Rathbone, J. A. R. "History and Politics." In I. Sternberg and P. M. Larby, editors. Op cit.
  • 9. Hallen, B. "African Meanings, Western Words." African Studies Review, Vol. 40 , no. 1 (April 1997).
  • 10. Hassan, S. "The Modernist Experience in African Art." Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. no. 2 (Spring/Summer 1995).
  • 11. Leys, C. The Rise and Fall of Development Theory (London: James Currey, 1996).
  • 12. Curtin, P. D. The Image of Africa - British Ideas and Action, 1780-1850 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1964).
  • 13. Hyden, G. "African Studies in the Mid-1990s: Between Afro-Pessimism and Amero-Skepticism." African Studies Review, Vol. 39, no. 2 (Sept 1996).
  • 14. Conyers, J. L., Jr., editor. African Studies: A Dis ciplinary Quest for Both Theory and Method (McFarland and Co, Inc. Publishers, 1997).

References

Otchare, F. E. African Studies Thesaurus. Greenwood Press, 1992. Zell, Hans. Editor. The African Studies Companion - A Resource Guide and Directory. Hans Zell Publishers, 1997.

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Ancient Northeast Africa

Students of the African Studies Club, CCSU, paid a visit to exhibits at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Brooklyn Museum, New York, in the Fall of 1997. The two exhibits reflected aspects of the material culture and lifestyle of two major African regions, Ancient Nubia and Ancient Egypt. Students were taken on a guided tour of the exhibit at the Boston Museum, which hosts some of Africa's most exquisite archeological artifacts, including representations of Piankhi, Nubian shawabtis (fi gurines) and a wide variety of pots, a few of which pre-date the Egyptian finds.

The holdings of the Brooklyn Museum were quite extensive with respect to Egypt and included artifacts from both pre-colonial indigenous Egypt and Egypt of the era of Greco-Roman colonization.

Oxford Conference

A conference on the Matrices of Scientific Knowledge and Practice in Colonial Africa will take place at St. Antony's College, Oxford University, UK, on March 7, 1998. The conference will explore the intersection between the history of science, African St udies and Development Studies. The organizer, Ms. Helen Denham, anticipates a lively and stimulating discourse on the subject.

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An Experiment in the Promotion of African Studies in Central Nigeria

by Dr. Olayemi Akinwumi,

Dept. of History, University of Ilorin, Nigeria

Akodi Afrika, a Cultural Center, Museum and Institute was established in 1982 at Iffe-Ijumu by Professor Ade Obayemi (1). The Cultural Center derives its name, "Akodi," from the Okun language (2) and means "a compound." Akodi Afrika in t his sense means "an African Compound." Indeed, the structure of the Center reflects this concept. The Center is an individual initiative, and the first of its kind in Nigeria. It promotes Nigerian culture in particuar and sponsor researches into all aspects of African studies. This is according to the founder, who is also the Director of the Center.

The Center was established to compliment the effort of the various Nigerian Universities and research Centers in promoting African studies. Apart from this, the Center is meant to serve as a general pool for all the researches carried out on the Central Nigerian region. This is to assist researchers in getting information on all the research that has been done on this area without necessarily travel ling throughout the region. The Center is also meant to serve the col laboration of Western trained scholars and local experts. This is to promote better understanding of African studies and provide solutions to some problems arising from interpretations of some documents.

The Cultural Center, which is based at Iffe- Ijumu, Kogi State, is located mid-way between Kabba and Omuo, both along the Lokoja-Ile-Ife motor road. The Center is about seventy-five per cent complete and indeed has been opened for operation. The Center h as the following facilities:

a) The Obimiri Library and Archives. This section renders library and documentation services. The library is well stocked with books, articles, maga zines and under-graduate and post-graduate theses. Most of the books are personal collections of the fo under(3) and donations from his friends and former students. (4). The library remains the most attractive section of the Center to both local and international researchers who have visited it.

b) The Okun Museum and Exhibition Galleries: This section ofers indoor/outdoor exhibitions with a focus on ocal history and culture. Only one of the galleries is opened.

c) The Akodi Institute for Culture: This is the co-ordinating unit for the Akodi-based Research and Training Programmes.

d) The Akodi Afrika Printing and Publications Unit: This unit is responsible for the publication of the Center publications.

There are also the:

  • Akodi Afrika Theatre and Bandstand;
  • Conferences and Seminars Sections;
  • Hostel accommodation for researchers;
  • The Iye Yedo Quadrangle for modern Arts and Crafts and the Akodi Social Center.

Since the establishment of the Center, it has pursued its objectives by organising conferences, sponsoring researche and allowing academic asso ciations in the country to use its facilities for conferences. The first conference on African Studies organized by the Center was from the 27th to 29th June, 1996. The conference had as its theme "Okun, An African peope and their civilization." In spite of the socio-economic problems in the coun try, the conference was well attended. Twenty-five papers were presented on such sub-themes as the environment and its conservation, local history, history of inter-group relations, institutions (includ ing masquerades and various facets of traditional technology). (5)

Recently, the Center organized a centenary conference with the theme "A Century of Change and Continuity in the Central Nigerian Region (1897-1997)." The conference had the following sub-themes: (a) The present state of historical and cutural studies, (b ) Boundaries (provinces, divisions etc), (c) People and their institutions, (d) Inter- group relations since 1897, (e) The physical environment, (f) Islam, Christianity and other belief systems. The conference, which took place from 6th to 8th of January 1997, was well attended and the objective of the conferenceÄto bring about a new level of consciousness on the various devel opments that have taken place in the region, was achieved (6). Indeed, local experts fully partici pated.

Similarly, the Center assisted the Nigerian Archaeological Association to organize its 13th Annual Conference from 28th to 31st August, 1995. The Center accommodated all the delegates and made available all its facilities to ensure suc cessful hosting.

Scholars from both within and outside the country continue to visit the Center and to express their delight and encouragement to the founder for his effort and sacrifice to promote African studies on his own. Some of the known Africanist scholars that have visited the Center included Prof. Toyin Falola, Dr. Elisha Renne, all based in the U.S.A., and Dr. Richard Kuba (Frankfurt Universit„t, Germany). Recently, some post-graduate students from Iowa in the U.S.A. were there to make use of the facilities f or their research.

Like other research centers, including uni versities, the Center has been handicapped by a lack of funds. The participants at the first conference organized by the Center noted with regret that government assistance, especially from local gov ernments, was not forthcoming. The participants called on the government to encourage individual effort, as demonstrated by Akodi Afrika, to pro mote African studies (7).

Notes and References
  1. Prof. Ade Obayemi was a Director-General of National Museum, Lagos. He is presently on the staff of the Department of History, University of Ilorin, Nigeria.
  2. Okun is a form of greetings among the North Eastern Yoruba. This term is now used to describe them.
  3. Some of the books were gotten from his various trips around and outside the country, especially in U.S.A. Some were theses photocopied from dif ferent Nigerian Universities.
  4. Professor Gloria Emeagwali donated all her books acquired in Nigeria and abroad to the Center when she left for the U.S.A. These books have fur ther enriched the library.
  5. See the report issued by the Center after the conference. The report includes the summary of all the papers presented at the conference.
  6. See the conference proceedings issued by the Center.
  7. The participants in the conference formed themselves into an Association of the friends of the Akodi to coordinate the activities of the Center and to seek funds for some of the Center's activities. The Association elected Prof. I. I. Ihimodu, the c urrent Dean of the Faculty of Business and Social Sciences, University of Ilorin, Nigeria, as the President.

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Africa and the Net

by Haines Brown,

Professor Emeritus, Central Connecticut State University

There are many on-line resources for finding out more about the Internet in Africa, but one that is particularly useful is IFEX It includes a search engine that can yield a large number of articles on your topic of interest. I mention it because I visited the site in con junction with an example of the ongoing contest in Africa between public and private control of tele communications. In Zimbabwe, the issue is whether the public Post and Telecommunications Corpora tion (PT C) or Zimbabwe's Internet service providers (ISPs), significantly representing foreign interests, will register new Internet sites.

We have reviewed before in this column some of the arguments in support of public ownership and control, and so here is an example of the kind of arguments put forward by the other side:

The PTC's charge for a bandwidth is among the highest in the world, discouraging its purchase by for-profit ISPs. Bandwidth is up to a hundred thou sand Zimbabwe Dollars (about US $13,000). The PTC denies it aims to exclude anyone. The government will be inclined to deny access for noneconomic reasons, such as pornography. The ISPs want the market to determine what is communicated as exclusion for economic reasons only. The PTC lacks the resources to include the top level ZW-TLD domain within its responsibilities. Cited are 1995 World Bank figures that show a high fault rate for Zimbabwe's telephone lines and slow repairs to suggest the PTC can't handle the ZW.

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