I ventured up from DC for the Friday sessions of the 56th annual meeting of the African Studies Association. I missed the first session and I was presenting at another, so I only got to attend two sessions (which collectively constitute hundreds of panels). Fortunately they were both outstanding.
In an advance post about the ASA meeting, I intimated concerns that a lot of scholarship may not necessarily be contributing anything new. To be sure, there were quite a few panels on topics dominating the public’s imagination of Africa, like terrorism in the Sahel and Nigeria and the emergence of South Africa from Apartheid. However, upon further reflection, I think it was unfair for me to make that blanket criticism, there is also something to be said for a critical mass of scholarship on a topic (such as what we do in the US on the Civil War, or early Presidents).
In addition, there was plenty of unique, highly original scholarship. The first of the two panels I attended, ‘The African Revolution in Transnational Perspective’ was particularly representative of this. I learned that Marcus Garvey’s successor as head of the Universal Negro Improvement Association had settled in Liberia from 1949, where he lived until his death 15 years later. My interest in Africa in large part emerged from the diaspora connections in the western part of the continent, so I was amazed not to have known this.
Another speaker relayed a fascinating anecdote about a prominent FRELIMO activist living in Tanzania, who pretended to be from Mozambique but was actually a black American from Texas with a degree in Romance Languages. After being expelled from FRELIMO, the individual then joined its opposition, RENAMO, before going further north and working for UNICEF in Kenya.
I met several people I had known before, and some new people, including one prominent reader of this blog who pointed out some of my double standards in discussing gender issues. I had a particularly interesting, albeit brief, conversation with a representative of a publishing house at Kwara State University in Nigeria, who had come to the meeting for the contacts she’d be able to make with publishers, of which quite a few were represent at the exhibitors hall.