African Engagements: On whose terms?

Uppsala 15 February 2010

In the past two decades, Africa has experienced dramatic changes. Between 1990 and 2005, in more than 42 African countries peaceful and democratic changes of government took place through competitive multiparty elections, notwithstanding more recent setbacks in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Gabon.

On the economic front, Africa emerged as one of the world’s fastest-growing regions in the wake of a boom in the international commodities market, despite the recent global financial crisis. Some African countries have put in place appropriate macroeconomic, structural and social policies that have contributed to improved growth rates and some progress towards meeting the MDGs. Significant efforts are also being made to reverse the productivity decline in agriculture and the decline in higher education and basic research in the face of equally daunting challenges including poverty, and post-conflict reconstruction and democratic consolidation. Africa is also changing demographically, in terms of its fast growing youthful population, and high rates of urbanization that are placing new demands on resources and connecting regions and other parts of the world in complex different ways.

The end of the Cold war, and rapid globalization have contributed to increased competition for resources and markets in Africa by the world’s established and emerging powers. In an increasingly multi-polar world, Africa’s relevance and influence in the emerging post-Cold war order is not in doubt. From being in a state of neglect and marginality in the immediate post-Cold war period, the continent—its resources and markets have become sources of interest and engagement by these powers.

Despite the political and economic changes within the continent and the world, the study of Africa remains a contested terrain. Questions as to how to understand the current changes in the continent, and how the world can engage a changing Africa on an equitable basis is far from being settled. The challenge remains, how the world can study and engage a resurgent Africa on the basis of mutual respect that facilitate a process of tapping into the present moment to promote social transformation and development on the continent, while the world opens up innovative African products, cultures and ideas.

The research community faces the challenge of evolving and expanding opportunities and spaces which can allow for a common multi-disciplinary exercise of knowledge production and understanding without necessarily talking with one voice, thereby enriching the understanding of a dynamic and diverse Africa.

Fantu Cheru
Research Director of the Nordic Africa Institute

This article is an abridged version of the Conference Announcement for ECAS 4, the 4th European Conference on African Studies, which will be convened in Uppsala, Sweden on 15 -18 June 2011. ECAS 4 is co-organised by NAI and African Studies in Europe (AEGIS).

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