The APN and Next Gen had the chance to attend the 3rd Biennial Conference of the African Studies Association of Africa, where several APN and Next Gen alumni, fellows, and grantees were also in attendance. The conference took place at the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, Kenya from October 24-26, 2019. We had the opportunity to sit down with APN alumnus (IRG 2018) and current Next Gen fellow Titilope Ajayi and ask her a few questions. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
African Peacebuilding Network: What do you think of the conference so far?
Titilope Ajayi: The conference has been very exciting and stimulating. We have over 45 countries represented. There have been lots of dynamic exchanges concerning the state of African Studies and knowledge and what we should do with this going forward.
What was it like working behind the scenes and mounting this conference, along with Njoki Wamai?
It was grueling work over many months, especially for me as an ASAA executive assistant. But it was an interesting and a hands-on learning process. As you may know the previous ASAA conference was held in 2017 in Ghana, where the organized is based. The dynamics of working across countries are slightly different, but we were able to develop good working relationships with many people from across the world, mainly with those here in Africa. I should add that several other SSRC (APN and Next Gen) fellows were involved in organizing, including Nicodemus Minde and John Mwangi. It was a good experience and I think having that connection [with Njoki, a current APN fellow, and other SSRC fellows] was really helpful.
What do you imagine [for this conference] going forward?
The possibilities are endless! There is lots of excitement and energy as you can see around here. We have over 400 delegates. Some are hearing about ASAA for the first time, but our objective of reclaiming African knowledge by Africans resonates well, and a lot of people are willing to get more actively involved and to spread the content and impulses of the discussions that are happening here around decolonizing and reclaiming African knowledge for Africa, by Africa. I foresee that the conference will continue to grow and become an anchor for these discourses.
I know that the concept of decolonizing knowledge is very central to the work that you are doing and for the ASAA. In light of the discussions that are going on in regard to the challenges, what are the prospects of fully decolonized knowledge produced in Africa? What are the challenges that we still need to circumvent?
Let me start with the challenges; I think a major one that was identified in the publishing session that we just came out of is the issue of resourcing. The resourcing of studies in and on Africa, the resourcing of knowledge production, and how we raise these resources. One of the key things that Professor Paul Zeleza said on the first day was, “how do we leverage the resources that we have among African philanthropies, among high net worth individuals and institutions?” That would be a major challenge.
In terms of opportunities, like I said before, they are endless. What we really need to do is reflect on the ways in which we are doing African Studies and become more creative in what we are doing. We need to re-center our own African languages and our own knowledges. It’s about bringing African Studies back to its roots while being cognizant of new and future developments.
What do you think APN, Next Gen, and the Social Science Research Council should do so that we have more presence and impact on platforms such as this one?
I would say, primarily, continue supporting African scholars who are studying on the continent. As mentioned, about 20 APN and Next Gen alumni, including myself, are participating in this conference and many of us are presenting research supported by the SSRC. So it’s crucial to keep building a strong core of African scholars with a consciousness of Africa and the need to own and make our narratives internationally visible. If possible, it would be good to also expand access beyond the scope of universities that are currently being represented. Finally, the SSRC should support ASAA and other events like this as much as possible, including organizing special panels at various conferences.
Could you tell us when and where the next ASAA conference is going to take place?
Well, the next conference will be in 2021 but we don’t know exactly where it will be yet. So far, we’ve had two in West Africa and we are in East Africa for the first time this year. We do aim to be as representative and inclusive as possible, so the next one could be in North, Central, or Southern Africa.
Titilope Ajayi is a research associate with The Global Institute-Africa, Ghana and a PhD candidate in international affairs at the University of Ghana. She has a keen interest in gender and security, social activism, civil society, and development. Ms. Ajayi is a 2019-2020 Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Fellow. She is also an alumnus of the same program (2016-2017) and the African Peacebuilding Network’s 2018 Individual Research Grant Program.