CODESRIA Congress Rabat Morocco December 5-11 2011.
We just came from CODESRIA Congress held in Rabat, Morocco from December 5 – 11 December, 2011 at Mohammed V University. The conference recognized the role that Mohammed V, the late King of Morocco played in the liberation of Africa and formation of OAU. A ten minute video on the historic meeting at Casablanca that brought Kwame Knrumah, Hailse Selasie and other African leaders to Morocco to discuss African unity was played. The video sounded like a propaganda piece and I would not have allowed it to be played at an academic conference although I recognise that there was need to satisfy the needs of the hosts, in a monarchy, where the monarchy still means a lot. The government of Morocco cooperated fully and was represented by top ministers and bureaucrats at the opening ceremony. On a more serious note, it was good touching base with part of the cream of African academics and scholars from the Continent and the Diaspora. It is always great getting in touch with academic heavyweights such as Samir Amin, Thandika Mkandawire, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Paul Nkwi, Ndri Assie-Lumumba, Elinami Swai, Adebayo Olukoshi, Mahmoud Mamdani, Godwin Murunga, Kenneth Inyani Simala, Amadou Mahtar Mbow, Issa Shijvi, among others.
I must applaud CODESRIA and its leadership for making this meeting possible, and although there were some logistical and organizational hitches here and there, CODESRIA did an excellent job in getting over 600 of us to Rabat, Morocco in through what might have been obvious logistical nightmare. Next time, it would good to keep time, than allowing Samir Amin to talk for one hour beyond his allocated 30 minutes, and then telling parallel sessions to spend 7 minutes per paper. I also thought that it was an overstretch to have plenary panels and round tables of up to 8 presenters, and where some did not keep to their 15 minutes per speaker, and where some spoke instead for 30, and resisted stopping when told to end, by the chairs. Next time, there may be need for training in how to chair panels from Toyin Falola, who will stop a presenter once their allocated time is over, without fearing the outcome. the chairs were too lenient with time wasters because of the tone set by the opening session, which ran over one hour beyond its allocated time, making lunch to be served at 2.30pm instead of 1:30 pm. On the second day, participants went for tea and lunch, ignoring the pleas of organizers to stay beyond allowed time on the program. much time was wasted during question time, when those asked to standing to ask questions became praise singers or started to present their papers which were not scheduled, with some even reading from prepared notes. That was surprising, especially with the frequency with which this was allowed to go on by the chairs.
There was a lot of noise made about age in CODESRIA, with many panels dominated by octogenarians, mainly older men. Unfortunately, much of the noise came from younger scholars who have made no significant contribution to scholarship and needed to be reminded that age alone will not be change that they were seeking. Age must be accompanied by intellectual contributions that shift or change debate, and create new paradigmatic imperatives. Age must be accompanied by academic rigor for it to make sense. Younger scholars who were given the opportunity, such as Paul Zeleza and Adebayo Olukoshi did not disappoint. I agree that we need new blood and faces in African scholarship. I have always been an admirer of older scholars but at this 13th CODESRIA Congress I was let down and noted that intellectual fatigue is rapidly catching up with most of them. I missed Ali Mazrui with catch phrases and coining up with new words at every conference. I also missed Prof. Dani Nabudere who died just before the Congress, for his radical approach and always thinking different. At 90, I think it was demanding too much from Prof. Mbow to deliver the keynote address. I have listened to him before and he did not sound different this time round. One wants to get new ideas, than the usual lamenting about the usual things that happened as he served as UNESCO Director General, how the US stopped funding them and how Africa’s problems such as the problems in the Congo were created by Europeans. He took over 1 hour much of which was spent on regurgitating the Congo crisis and the Lumumba-Kasavubu rivalry. By the second hour, those who were not asleep had walked out of the impressive auditorium at Mohammed V University in Rabat. Despite this, Mbow just went on and on, about the 1960s and more. Prof. Sam Moyo, the chair, was indifferent and at some point looked confused, on whether to stop the old man let the presentation run its full course.
There was also noise about the diaspora not being adequately represented at CODESRIA Congresses. This was not legitimate, in my opinion, because there has always been a representation from the Diaspora at CODESRIA meetings in Africa. Even when I taught in the US, CODESRIA always invited to their evens in Africa. I was surprised when one confused young man suggested that CODESRIA should hold conferences in Europe and North America in order to attract more scholars. He then went on for about 30 minutes describing his education in Cambridge and Oxford and his present American base. This justified why Samir Amin or Thandika Mkandawire would want to talk for one hour.
Gender issues also emerged at every point. There was genuine concern for gender imbalance, where many plenary sessions and round tables were dominated by older men. The few women who delivered key note addresses did not do a good job and CODESRIA may need to widen its net to include more women while also emphasising quality. We missed quality contributions from leading African women intellectuals like Amina Mama, Mary Nyangweso-Wangila, Ayesha Imam, Ifi Amadiume, Eunice Kamaara, Theodore Ayot, Tabitha Kanogo, Oyeronke, Philemon Okeke, Nakanyike Musisi, among others. There was genuine need and desire for more female voices. I think this was partly responsible for the coup de grace that took place on Friday 10, December the last day when two women were voted in as president and vice president respectively. I am sure a lot is expected from these two great women and the world will be watching to see if they perform better than previous executives at CODESRIA.
The big question of publishing was not tackled despite it being raised by some speakers. Many young scholars lamented about the dearth of publishing opportunities. There was also a low number of publishing houses represented at the conference because of what they thought were high fees charged by CODESRIA for exhibiting their products. I would rather that you charge less and attract more publishers than the handful that showed up. Many of the books that I have personally published have come out of contacts and negotiations with editors at conferences. I also think that CODESRIA needs to promote more journals in Africa. I am a chief editor of two journals – Eastern Africa Journal of Humanities and Sciences and Kenya Studies Review and would have loved to have sessions where editors talk to young scholars on why manuscripts sent to journals are rejected and how to publish.
Mentoring was also absent. I recall the day in 1989 when Bethuel Ogot attended my paper presentation and asked me a question. I also recall in 1992 when Ali Mazrui attended a panel where I was presenting and said that my paper was good. I attended many paper presentation sessions and was surprised by the manner in which young scholars appreciated professors attending and asking questions at their sessions. Unfortunately, most professors attended only plenary sessions and round tables and retreated to the conference lounge where they sipped coffee or smoked. I never saw any of the so-called heavyweights in parallel sessions which were very disturbing. How can young scholars know that they are on the right track? How can they relate to the senior scholars if they cannot interact on personal level?
I was also disturbed by the Anglophone and Francophone tensions that openly played out at plenary sessions. One could almost tell the composition of those in attendance of a plenary session by the language that the keynote speaker used. One plenary speaker was heckled when he decided to use English and yet he comes from what is regarded as a Francophone country (Senegal). He was seen as a traitor and some Francophonies walked out as a result. This was disturbing. It was also interesting when one Lusophone speaker took to the microphones and made his contribution in Portuguese. Although the conference languages were English, French, Portuguese and Arabic, there was a feeling that we should this self-imposed linguistic prison to just English and French, particularly given the fact that Lusophone speaker ended up speaking very fluent English at the end, basically stating that he had used Portuguese deliberately because they feel marginalised. All those who made contributions in Arabic made similar claims and spoke good English. East Africans felt that next time Kiswahili should made a conference language as well.
I am now back in Kenya and would like to applaud Dr. Ebrima Sall (Executive Secretary of CODESRIA) and the outgoing CODESRIA Executive committee led by Prof. Sam Moyo for a well attended conference. I was happy to see Dr. Ebrima Sall fly economy, different from the time of Achile Mbembe when CODESRIA Executives flew first class. This is a change that was brought about by Adebayo Olukoshi and should spread to our governments. I met a junior civil servant on my Dubai-Nairobi leg flying first class. He holds a more junior position than the one I held when I was in the civil service and here he was flying first class. I am digressing. The flight connections are still a problem and a major put off. This time round, we went through Dubai from Casablanca to reach Nairobi, different from when we did this through Paris, Rome, Amsterdam or London. Delegates to Khartoum connected through Istanbul, while those to Dar-Es-Salaam connected through and Doha. One hopes that next time we can do the connection through African capitals. The problem, I heard is that African airlines which fly to North Africa such as Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, South Africa Airlines, Egypt Air, among others, do not give discounted or negotiated air fares. I will forward this message to some of them.
We missed regular CODESRIA participants such as Prof. Hannington Ochwada, Kakai Wanyonyi, Frederick Wanyama, among others. East Africa elected Prof. Simala from Kenya and Prof. Senkore from Tanzania as Representatives to the CODESRIA Executive for terms of 3 years. Godwin Murunga’s term came to an end after a very successful tenure as the able representative of the region.