By Robtel Neajai Pailey
We need to put the ‘African’ in African Studies, not as a token gesture, but as an affirmation that Africans have always produced knowledge about their continent.
Last week, I was invited by Eritrean-Ethiopian masters student Miriam Siun of Leiden University’s African Studies Centre to give one of two keynote lectures on the topic, “Where Is the African in ‘African’ Studies?” I took a long-range view, declaring that Africans have always produced knowledge about Africa, even though their contributions have been “preferably unheard” in some cases and “deliberately silenced” in others.
For those who question what constitutes an ‘African’ in the heyday of multiple citizenships and transnational flows of goods, ideas, and people, an ‘African’ has birthplace or bloodline ties to Africa, in the first instance. More importantly, however, an ‘African’ has a psychological attachment to the continent and is politically committed to its transformation.
For those who might wonder about the purpose of African Studies as a field of scholarly inquiry, it is to constantly interrogate epistemological, methodological, and theoretical approaches to the study of Africa, inserting Africa and its people at the centre of that interrogation as subjects, rather than objects.