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AEGIS European Conference on African Studies

11 - 14 July 2007
African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands

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Getting African Studies back to Africa: Beyond the 'Africanist-African' Divide

Panel 9. Setting a New Agenda for African Studies
Paper ID233
Author(s) Chachage, Chambi
Paper Bringing_African_Studies_Back_to_Africa___Chambi_Chachage[1].doc - 0.17MB
AbstractThe turn of the 21st century has witnessed bitter contestations over the production, dissemination and entitlement of knowledge about Africa/Africans. These contestations, which are inter/multidisciplinary in scope, have widened the gulf and antagonisms between scholars of Africa, both within and without Africa. Notable contestations include those fuelled by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s 'Wonders of the African World', Gavin Kitching’s 'Why I gave up African Studies', Achilles Mbembe’s 'African Modes of Self-Writing', and Mahmood Mamdani’s 'Teaching Africa at the Post-Apartheid University of Cape Town'. The escalation of contestations over Africa/Africans at this particular historical juncture, this paper argues, did not happen by chance. To a significant extent, this intellectual phenomenon owes its explanation to the strategic adaptation and reinvigoration of the multifaceted historical process of decolonization. It is, by and large, a manifestation of the frustrations and crises within disciplines involved in the study of Africa/Africans and their failure to adequately address African issues/problems despite nearly half a century of scholarly engagement with post-independent Africa. Consequently, it is accompanied by intellectual rebellions against colonial/neo-colonial paradigms and imperial/racial discourses on Africa/Africans and, as such, it is a conceptual milestone in the unfinished project of decolonizing African Studies and its allied disciplines. The latter assertion stems from the fact that the history of these disciplines is marred by their complicity in serving interests other than those that are primarily African and anti-colonial/imperial, a recurring concern that pervades these contestations. As we approach the close of the first decade of the 21st century, contestations and crises besetting African Studies remain a challenge. It follows, then, that this paper looks at their intellectual and institutional implications to the study of Africa, Africans and, inevitably, Africanists such as those who are on the Afropessimistic verge of giving up African Studies because they find it depressing. It particularly looks at the possibility of charting viable ways out of the ‘Africanist-African’ divide and its conceptual impasse for the sake of the primary object/subject of African Studies i.e. Africa/Africans. Even though it acknowledges the importance of contestations in reaching viable consensuses and workable alternatives, the paper asserts that bitter intellectual divides over Africa tend to overlook and/or even undermine issues that are of utmost intellectual and material relevance to Africa and the majority of Africans. Since the distribution of power and resources is predicated on knowledge, it is appalling if these intellectual rivalries privileges academic elitisms and bourgeoisie interests at the expense of the overall welfare of Africans/Africa. Thus, this paper calls for scholars who are genuinely interested in the empowerment of Africans/Africa to collaborate in the revitalized project of decolonizing African Studies and African/Africanist minds. African Studies that is epistemologically, paradigmatically and pragmatically anchored on the primary object/subject of its study, the author of this paper believes, is better placed to foster material and intellectual progress in/for Africa. Such would be an African Studies that is returned back to Africa – intellectually and materially speaking, it would be a study of Africa for Africa regardless of its geographical settings.