Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Africanists and Responsibility: Some Reflections

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Africanists and Responsibility: Some Reflections

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Afro-pessimism is a widespread sentiment in the corporate media and in universities in the West. Even among those who research and teach African Studies, feelings of doubt about the value of our work and lack of confidence in the future are fairly commonplace. Gavin Kitching articulated such feelings in an article that outlined why he was depressed about Africa and African Studies. [1] This included, first, that "sub-Saharan Africa" has experienced steady economic decline and political failure for the past three decades and presumably will for the foreseeable future largely because its elites are "exploitative, selfish and corrupt." Second, this failure cannot be explained by either earlier or current analytic models, especially in light of developmental successes by countries in Asia. Third, not knowing precisely what the problem is, it is impossible to know what to do. Finally, political paralysis is exacerbated by a sterile, accusatory polarization between "externalists" (who blame the wicked imperialists for the mess) and "internalists" (who fault African incompetence, culture, cupidity, etc.). Compounding the problem in this view is that pervasive European guilt prevents Europeans from saying what they truly believe. African dependency meanwhile supposedly enables Africans to avoid painful truths about themselves. This creates a situation where Africanist scholars are de facto complicit in perpetuating tyranny and criminally inept governance. Indeed, in a subsequent interview Dr. Kitching described as "imperialist" those Western scholars who do not forcefully denounce African elites. [2]

Dr. Kitching concludes by urging Africanists to berate Africans for their shortcomings:

   The prime responsibility for making a decent future for Africa's
   people lies, has lain for at least 30 years, and from now on
   always will lie, on the shoulders of the continent's own governing
   elites. Simply to say that, to keep saying it, and to keep saying
   why it is true to any and all African people who will listen, this
   must be the predominant political objective of the Africanist
   profession at this historical juncture (emphasis in the original).

Kitching's polemic came to my attention at what is surely an important juncture for Africa and Africanists. In Canada, the federal government has just announced a large increase in development assistance and debt forgiveness even as the crisis in Zimbabwe severely tests African commitment to good governance and "peer review. …

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