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Brooks Marmon, managing editor of Postgrads from the Edge, reflects on a workshop co-hosted by CAS and the University’s Global and Transnational History Research Group.

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Tom Molony delivers opening remarks alongside Historical Perspectives Panel:  Photo Courtesy Global & Transnational History Research Group

Conference/workshop season is heating up at the University of Edinburgh.  April is shaping up to be particularly busy with CAS’ annual conference on Law and Social Order in Africa, followed by a workshop on Social Media in Africa at the end of the month.

February however, was highlighted by a workshop marking the 50th anniversary of the Arusha Declaration, the famed statement of African socialism by the Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, an Edinburgh graduate (read about this period of his life in more detail here).

The Tanzanian presence at the University of Edinburgh is significant.  In CAS, our lecturers Hazel Gray and Tom Molony have produced a wide body of work on Tanzanian history, economics, and politics.  Gray has worked in Tanzania’s Ministry of Finance while Molony has just published a biography on Nyerere’s early years.  In History, Emma Hunter has also published widely on Tanzanian political thought and print media.  All three chaired panels at the workshop.

Needless to say, this presence was immeasurably bulked up on the 24th of February for The Arusha Declaration @ 50 workshop with specialists on Tanzania from across Europe and East Africa flocking to Edinburgh.  The conference consisted of four panels and 17 speakers, with Molony closing the workshop with a special address on ‘Nyerere’s Edinburgh Safaris.’

As a (budding) historian of southern Africa, I was a bit out of my league in terms of the content, but the dynamism of the conference was contagious.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I particularly enjoyed the opening panel, ‘Historical Perspectives’, chaired by Dr. Hunter.  The panel opened with an analysis of the Arusha Declaration by George Roberts, an emerging scholar at the University of Warwick (which I was to subsequently learn was strongly influenced by lecturers who had taught at the University of Dar es Salaam law school).

The speakers who followed had all worked in Tanzania in the 1960s or 70s and brought a first-hand perspective to the implementation of the Arusha Declaration.  Ralph Ibbott played a key role in helping Nyerere build his vision of ‘Education for Self-Reliance’, Brian Van Arkadie advised the government on economic policies in the late 60s, Father Vic Missiaen (who was perhaps the panellist most critical of Nyerere’s failure to implement ujamaa) arrived in Tanzania in 1968, followed shortly thereafter by the last speaker, Elsbeth Court, who served as a teacher with the Peace Corps.

While the themes of the presentations varied widely, from education and politics to arts, the deep historical perspectives of the panellists ensured a rich and enlightening discussion.

The three panels that followed maintained the momentum.  The second panel explored ‘The Impact of the Arusha Declaration’ – primarily through an examination of economic and social development.   A trio of PhD students, including CAS’ own Robert Macdonald, who spoke on the contemporary opposition’s embrace of the Arusha Declaration, were joined by Charlottes Cross in a panel on the ‘Arusha Declaration in Contemporary Politics.’  The final panel, ‘The Arusha Declaration Today’, was an all Tanzanian affair featuring Edinburgh’s Albert Mkony with an analysis of social media discourse on the Arusha Declaration and Julius Nyerere.

Molony, clad in an olive safari suit, closed out the workshop with a fascinating account of Nyerere’s Edinburgh years, 1949 – 1952.  Nyerere received his MA from Edinburgh several years after undergraduate study at Makerere.  In a rather impressive feat, he returned just a decade later as head of independent Tanganyika to receive a honorary degree.

A subsequent reception at the Talbot Rice Gallery formally concluded the workshop.

The Arusha Declaration @ 50 workshop brought together a compelling mix of academics, students, and historic practitioners of ujamaa for a lively and insightful conference.  While I don’t think I can imagine the experience of Nyerere’s Edinburgh, I’m glad to have been here for Arusha @ 50.

 

 

 

 

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Most of the Africanist events on campus fall on weekdays, with the weekly CAS seminars on Wednesdays forming the cornerstone of CAS convocations.

This Saturday, however, is shaping up to be a treat with the student initiated and CAS and Global Justice Academy/Global Development Academy supported exploration of The Future of Pan-Africanism.

More info is available on the Eventbrite page here.

A little later in the month, The Arusha Declaration @ 50 Workshop, on Friday, February 24, will also be a good way to kick the weekend off.  The workshop is co-sponsored by CAS and The Global & Transnational History Research Group in the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology.  The Tanzanian High Commissioner will be in attendance.

Registration and more information is here.

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Matthew Pflaum is a MsC student in Africa & International Development.  He has been an active force on campus, founding the Africa Society.  Here he writes about a student initiative to generate greater dialogue around elections on the continent.

On the evening of 7th December, around thirty University of Edinburgh students met to explore and follow the Ghanaian election being held that day.

The idea emerged when groups of students and faculty stayed up late to closely follow the US elections across the campus and city – in bars, offices, and classrooms. We wanted to create similar opportunities to collectively follow African elections, starting with the Ghanaian elections, which were scheduled for just a month later . Having successfully received funding from the Global Justice Academy and the Global Development Academy, we put together a Facebook Group for the event and interest spread. 

The idea did not arise in a vacuum, but rather was part of a broader move to decolonize the study of politics. At the University of Edinburgh, we are fortunate to have regular Africa-focused events and activities. Alongside lectures, seminars, roundtable discussions, we have events like G-connect, in which a country is celebrated through food, dancing, music, and events, serves to educate and inform people about different countries and cultures. Our event was a valuable addition to this mix.

The event began around five in the evening in the first-floor practice suite in the Chrystal MacMillan Building of the University. The evening began with an introduction by Joseph Yaw Kissi, a Ghanaian student studying international development. Joseph provided an insightful overview of current politics in the country, including summaries of the major parties, candidates, and platforms. This gave a good foundation and context for the subsequent discussions and lectures.

Following Joseph’s introduction, we had lectures and question/answer sessions with two Ghanaian Professors, Dr. John Osae-Kwapong of the University of Findlay and Dr. Isaac Owusu-Mensah of the University of Ghana. They provided very important and interesting information and data from their own research and expertise, explaining regional and geographic voting trends. Throughout each lecture, students asked questions and received excellent responses from the Professors. We learned, for example, that the issue of gender has not emerged as a pivotal and critical topic during the election. We also learned that regional and global geopolitics remain lower priorities than issues like jobs, unemployment, and economics in Ghanaian elections.

Throughout the event, we feasted on the delicious food prepared by fellow students (special thanks and gratitude to Joseph Yaw Kissi, Nina Amoah-Buabeng, Micaela Opoku-Mensah, Dorcas Amoh-Mensah, and everybody else) who generously volunteered to cook despite the burden of final papers. The food they spent all day preparing – Jollof, rice, fried chicken, eggs, salad, and more – was delicious.

Thanks to this event we learned much about Ghana’s politics, culture, and history. More importantly, we were left with questions that will provoke greater interest in the country. The event served to stimulate discussion and engagement. The following day we were greeted with news that the opposition NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo won the election. Some people rejoiced at these results, while others lamented them. The new President has promised to serve and represent all Ghanaians in achieving political and economic progress, and Ghanaians and the rest of the world will surely follow ensuing developments closely.

Juliette Wairimu Kariuki is about to enter her second year of PhD studies at CAS.  Her thesis examines informal food provisioning systems in Nairobi, Kenya.  In this post she reflects on her preliminary fieldwork in Nairobi and the unexpected ‘learning moments’ it presented.

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Juliette conducting research

Conducting preliminary field research was an exploratory research journey. I arrived in Kenya with no strict agenda or preconceived ideas. I went to learn and observe what is happening – what people are saying and doing about my topic of interest, urban food provisioning.  By doing this I stumbled upon realities that I hadn’t previously considered.

Informed by my Research in Africa module here at Edinburgh as well as the experience I gained as a research practitioner during my MSc degree at UCL (pictured above in MeK’ele Tigray Ethiopia), going to the field was different this time. I felt more prepared and aware of the advantages of doing fieldwork as well as the complications that one may expect to face in the field.

With this little bit of experience, I tried to be aware of my position and the dangers of having a ‘researcher as knower’ perspective. To aid me in this process, I made sure to pack a field journal to use as part of my journey, taking the time to record observations whilst on the matatu (public bus) or in the evenings after Chai (tea).

In my journal, I recorded notes based on any interactions and observations I had in the day (no-matter how small or seemingly unimportant). On the basis of these daily notes I could reflect and ask myself why did the conversations or observations go the way they did?

These accumulated moments of reflection enabled me to change what or who I was observing the following day, or even the location of my observations. Since returning from my preliminary research in Kenya, I have been asked by fellow researchers and acquaintances, “how was your preliminary fieldwork?” Each time, I find myself answering the question slightly differently, drawing on a different experience/note from my journal. Each answer I give highlights the many experiences one encounters in the field, from the creation of new research relationships, to the opportunity to explore new research narratives and questions.

At this moment, as I attempt to recollect the many experiences of my research, I find myself drawn two particular words, ‘learning moments’.  Learning moments, are instances where you can make connections between the existing complex contexts. For me, these moments helped connect the theory to the local context.

These new connections were not necessarily in line with what I had read.  In my case, these connections revealed my lack of knowledge regarding the constraints of my location, scope, and my research design. These moments of awareness, or reflection also pointed towards the lack of available data, underscoring the necessity of preliminary fieldwork to uncover these gaps in data. My reflections and learned knowledge were only possible through my improved understanding of the context of my research. In short, these learning moments involve the connections between what you think you know and the reality of what you don’t know.

To give a concrete example of a learning moments – when I first began my preliminary fieldwork, I made sure to keep my mind open to every interaction.  I paid particular attention to the natural moments of exchange that happened surrounding food. These exchanges occurred regularly throughout the day; they ranged from the conversations we had between the owners and clients of the corner juice stall, visitors to an open-air-carwash, vendors at the night markets, to the conversations with the lady making lunch for contractors building a four story apartment block.

What became clear in these learning moments is that the culture of food was much more than what I had read. I discovered different types of food served different purposes in different areas. It was only through reflection (going back to my diary notes) that my fieldwork began to take shape. I hadn’t realised the variation of available foods sold along specific streets, that both raw and cooked foods are sold by these vendors, some specialising in meat and others in both vegetables and fresh meat. I saw the extent to which each vendor used their unique relationships with their clients. I also began to take note of the role of the informal food system, the dynamics of rural assemblers and purchasing agents, and rural-urban wholesalers and brokers.

These learning moments were important because they added a deeper narrative to my research, a narrative I couldn’t have found in the literature. Instead, paying attention to the learning moments assisted me in reaching a more localised understanding of the lived experiences of inhabitants of Nairobi.

These learning moments prevented me from looking at the research field as a site of a problem that need fixing. Rather, the field became a learning experience, allowing me the space to discover new connections between certain themes I had once dismissed as well as to question my own positionality and assumptions. Although frustrating at times, being open to change, allowing your ideas and topic to be challenged and evolve is essential.

Preliminary fieldwork is definitely a step in the right direction if you would like to engage in research that will truly contribute to poverty reduction development agendas that are reflective of the community and are practical and sustainable.

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Githurai Estate, Nairobi, Kenya.  A popular street market for food and other goods.

Ismaila Ceesay, who has just finished his PhD at CAS and is currently a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of the Gambia has written a piece on the recent unexpected political changes in that country.  Continue reading below or enjoy in the original format over at Africa at LSE.

Nestled inside Senegal like a ‘hotdog in a roll’, the Gambia is surrounded on all sides by its larger neighbour, except for its short Atlantic coastline. A micro-state, the Gambia is considered to be one of mainland Africa’s smallest and ‘least important countries’ with no strategic resources. However, since gaining independence from Britain in February 1965, the country has make up for its ‘insignificant status’ by demonstrating time and again its propensity to defy existing conventional political norms in the African continent.

In the immediate aftermath of its creation as an independent sovereign state, the Gambia’s largely poor colonial legacy, combined with being poorly endowed with strategic natural and human capital resources, triggered a wave of pessimism among observers of the post-colonial African theatre. Amid the independence euphoria, some sceptics were apprehensive about the country’s survivability and long-term viability as an independent state, a sentiment aptly expressed by Berkeley Rice’s proclamation of ‘the birth of an improbable nation’, suggesting that the ex-British colony could not exist as an independent reality, and that the Gambia might sooner or later be co-opted by Senegal.

Despite all the gloomy forecasts, the Gambia survived as an independent nation. Except for a brief period in July 1981 when a group of leftist rebels made a failed attempt to overthrow the government of President Dawda Jawara and replace it with what they proclaimed to be a “dictatorship of the proletariat” under the leadership of the Libya-trained Marxist-Leninist Kukoi Samba Sanyang, the Gambia became a symbol of peace and stability in an unstable African sub-region. In addition, the country was distinguished as one of sub-Saharan Africa’s longest standing multi-party democracies. This was perceived to be an exception on a continent where military dictators held sway and one-party rule and authoritarianism the norm, making the country a deviant case.

The Gambia was once again perceived as a deviant case when a military coup in July 1994, led by a 29-year-old lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, toppled the Jawara government thereby defying the post-1989 sub-Saharan African trend away from authoritarianism towards pluralism and multi-party politics. This sweep of democratic impulses through Africa, also referred to as ‘Africa’s springtime’, the ‘second independence’ or ‘third-wave democratization’, saw mass movements against authoritarian rule by a resurgent civil society demanding the end of one-party dictatorships and the liberalisation of political spaces.

The recently-concluded elections in the Gambia and its political ramifications, to some extent, is reminiscent of political earthquakes of the same magnitude as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991 and the end of Apartheid rule in South Africa in 1994. The December 1 2016 polls saw the defeat of incumbent strong man Yahya Jammeh by a united coalition in an election whose outcome defied logic that incumbents in Africa hardly lose elections and took many by surprise. What was more unfathomable was Jammeh’s decision to concede defeat to Adama Barrow, the coalition candidate, even before all the results were published. It has always been the belief that dictators of Jammeh’s ilk will never preside over elections that they know they will lose or easily concede defeat without first attempting to subvert the will of the people.

In a continent where the few standing brutal ‘dictators-cum-big men’ of the likes of Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, Omar Al Bashir, Paul Biya, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, José Eduardo dos Santos, Idriss Deby, Joseph Kabila and Pierre Nkurunziza are using a combination of tactics to consolidate their grip on power and extend their already lengthy rule, the Gambia, once again, became a deviant case by democratically voting out an eccentric dictator who had promised to rule for a ‘billion years’ and who has consolidated his 22-year rule through a potent mix of fear, intimidation and mysticism. In its show of deviance, what is happening in the Gambia is the first time in post-colonial Africa’s political history that a ‘military-turned-civilian’ dictator, whose rule has been so entrenched, has conceded defeat in a generally free and fair elections and is ready to peacefully hand over power.

Jammeh’s defeat in the polls is not only due to a unified and emboldened opposition, a massive social media campaign by Gambian dissidents in the Diaspora as well as a disgruntled and youthful population. It is also the result of Jammeh’s attempts, partly because of complacency, to minimally reform the electoral system by introducing ‘on the spot counting’. The transparent and efficient nature of this system inhibited any attempts of electoral malpractice that would have led to a different outcome. I could not agree more with the French political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville’s assertion that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform.

A gtoup of CAS students with support from the Global Justice Academy and Global Development Academy are hosting an evening of coverage of the Ghanaian presidential elections on 7 December from 5 – 10 pm in the 6th floor seminar room of the CMB.  For further info read their brief message below and find the event flyer here.

On December 7, Ghana takes to the polls for its presidential election. There are seven parties contesting the election. It is important to give attention to this election (and indeed all elections) for issues of parity and awareness. The Global Justice Academy (GJA) and the Global Development Academy (GDA) have generously agreed to support this event.

The election in Ghana is important not only for citizens of Ghana, but throughout the world through trade, migration, and international relations. Our event will have general comments by two Ghanaian professors with expertise in Ghanaian politics: Dr. John Osae-Kwapong and Dr. Isaac Owusu-Mensah. The election will be introduced by Ghanaian students from the University of Edinburgh with special attention to the political parties and their candidates and policies. This will be followed by live coverage from streaming Ghanaian TV stations and live feeds from Twitter and Facebook and finally discussion and round-table.

The event will begin at 5 pm on the 6th floor seminar room of the CMB. There will be African food provided by local restaurants and students. We very much hope people can attend – both those with interest in Ghana and Africa and those wanting to learn more about it. The event is open to the public and all are welcome. Please join us on December 7th in the CMB from 5-10pm for this important event.

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Jamie Livingstone holding papers as audience listens

The Centre of African Studies (CAS) is home to a vibrant community of intellectual activities, with weekly seminars serving as the centerpiece of an exciting calendar of Africa-centric events across the University.  With all that is going on in CAS and the School of Social and Political Science (SPS), it can be easy to disregard the wide range of Africanist events taking place elsewhere on campus or in the wider Edinburgh community.

In this spirit, even though the topic was completely unrelated to my research, I resolved to attend the November 18 meeting of the Scottish branch of the Tropical Agriculture Association (TAA) on “The Impact of Climate Change on Farmers in Africa and Scotland” with Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland (covering the Africa component), and Jim Densham of the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds, Scotland (on the Scottish).

Although Livingstone had to leave early and I didn’t get to speak to him one-on-one as I had hoped, it was a fantastic opportunity to have such intimate access to the local head of a major international organization like Oxfam.  And if my schedule had allowed, I would have been able to speak with Livingstone during a mixer in advance of the meeting at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, just a few hundred meters from the majestic New School campus.

While the meeting was billed as covering climate change in Africa more broadly, the bulk of Livingstone’s remarks were specific to Malawi, a pleasant surprise as my research focuses on southern Africa.  A further lesson that showing up at events can pay unexpected dividends came when John Ferguson, the convenor of TAA Scotland noted in his introductory remarks that one of their main aims is to help students identify careers in agriculture, promote networking opportunities, and help MSc candidates identify funding opportunities for fieldwork for their dissertations (all for a £15/year student membership fee).

Livingstone initiated his remarks with a broad overview that situated the emergence of Oxfam during World War II in historical context while also drawing on the key thematic areas of Oxfam’s contemporary work.  Livingstone sees inequality, conflict, and climate change as the biggest barriers to achieving the sustainable development goals globally, but especially in Africa.

The drought and food insecurity situation in southern Africa has been percolating on the edge of global headlines for the better part of 2016 but has failed to catalyze the massive international response necessary to address the crisis.  Livingstone, who had toured the Malawian capital Lilongwe and the southern towns of Balaka and Mulanje the previous month, put this into context by noting that the number of people facing severe food shortages in Malawi alone slightly exceeds the population of all of Scotland.

Livingstone screened several mini-clips that Oxfam has produced to highlight the urgent need for donations for food relief in Malawi.  A key figure in these clips was Jenipher, a 24-year-old raising several orphans and struggling to get by following the failure of the maize harvest.  Also highlighted was Stella, who with Oxfam’s support has shifted from growing maize to more drought resistant cassava.

Livingstone noted, perhaps somewhat controversially, that Oxfam is a major proponent of cash transfers as they “get money into the hands of the people who need it much quicker than food distribution.”  He added that neighboring Mozambique was receiving greater support from donors than Malawi, a situation which his sources informed him was a result of the confluence of two factors, both of which I found quite intriguing:

  1. That donors had greater confidence in Mozambique, following a corruption scandal in Malawi (despite similar imbroglios in Maputo) and;
  2. Mozambique holds greater natural resources and Western governments were more eager to curry favor with its leaders as a result.

Perhaps most fascinating of all was the passionate Q and A that followed.  The crowd, consisting mostly of retired (or almost so) agriculture professionals with a smattering of graduate students, pushed Livingsone quite vigorously on a number of his claims, noting that cash transfers could be inflationary and that there was a risk Oxfam was prioritizing short-term patches over a long-term solution, particularly in its approach to procuring fertilizer for farmers.

Livingstone did acknowledge the obvious, that the surname he shares with the famous missionary and central African explorer was commented upon quite frequently during his time in Malawi and generally, he added, quite favorably.

Densham’s presentation on Scotland was quite enriching for me as an international student as well.  Overall, the Fall meeting of the Tropical Agriculture Association was a brilliant reminder that like the Africa in Motion Film Festival, there’s a significant amount of Africanist activity taking place across the campus and the city, contributing to an eclectic and stimulating academic experience.

Brooks Marmon is Editor of Postgrads from the Edge