Inaugural Lectures Should be taken seriously by universities in Kenya
By Maurice Amutabi
Inaugural lectures are serious business and should be taken seriously by universities in Kenya like is the practice elsewhere because they are supposed to shape knowledge and illuminate lifelong achievements of the scholars giving them, while motivating young scholars to aspire for such. They should provide opportunity for sharing ideas that create paradigm shifts while producing cutting edge knowledge and heralding new academic horizons in teaching and research. In other words, an inaugural lecture should be a top notch, innovative, deeply reflective and insightful contribution to knowledge in new and profound ways.
An inaugural lecture is a talk given by a full professor at a university; detailing his or her previous contribution to knowledge and providing way forward in relation to pressing academic, intellectual, scholarly and societal dilemmas of the time. An inaugural lecture needs to be original, engaging, stimulating and ground-breaking. It should be creative and lead to new thinking, new ideas, and inventions, discoveries, such as new phrases and paradigm shift or revision.
In other parts of the world, inaugural lectures are used to showcase the strength and attractiveness of the university, showing that it has academic heavyweights of great repute. Guests such as aspiring students are invited to such talks and there have been occasions where graduate students make choices to attend such universities after attending such lectures. Inaugural lectures are also widely circulated as occasional papers, on CD-ROMS and podcasts.
Recent inaugural lectures by professors at universities in Kenya have left me wondering if these individuals know what an inaugural lecture is about. I have attended many inaugural lectures in Kenya and abroad in the past and feel that these Kenyan professors are doing a bad job and letting us down. I have seen announcements of such lectures in the press and many of the topics leave a lot to be desired. Some of the titles are pathetic and lack academic creativity and read like masters or Ph.D student proposal topics; while others are academic neophyte-like in the way they are phrased.
Some of the announcements by way of abstracts have serious conceptual inaccuracies and lack academic thrust and rigour that one expects at this level. Some read like Ph.D abstracts and not professorial inaugural lectures. Some have appeared with serious grammatical and typographical errors that make one wonder how these individuals should be professors in the first place, if they cannot produce intelligible abstracts.
I have recently attended some of the inaugural lectures and many of them appear rushed and lack originality, are too verbose, pompous and polemical. Looking at those which have been delivered in the past ten years at Kenyan universities, it is evident that majority are devoid of theoretical robustness and insightfulness. Many of these lectures are not remembered for anything significant and have not created a paradigm shift in anyway, at home and abroad.
The most famous inaugural lecture in Eastern Africa is that of Prof. Ali Mazrui delivered at Makerere University in 1966 when he became full professor. Mazrui’s inaugural lecture is one of the most quoted and also one that led to many changes in the scholarly and academic landscape. The lecture was entitled, “Ancient Greece in African Political Thought.” This inaugural lecture transformed knowledge in Africa. Afro-centrism and Afro-pessimism emerged from this lecture.
Mazrui’s inaugural lecture inspired works of scholars such as Walter Rodney and his famous book, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ and Martin Bernal’s book ‘Black Athena’. The lecture connected with ideas of scholars like Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophelus Obenga. If he were to deliver his lecture today, it is possible that Mazrui would have its title as “African Thought in Ancient Greece” where he would put Africa at the centre rather than Ancient Greece, because many of his critics have harped on this apparent slip-up by young Ali Mazrui, to call him a Europhile.
After his inaugural lecture, Mazrui became known as ‘Africa’s leading theoretician on cultural dependency’. He has since been known as one of top 3 mega-professors from Africa, and listed among top 100 most influential intellectuals of the past 50 years in the world.
Prof. Amutabi teaches social sciences at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi