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Centre For African Studies, London

There is no Africa in African studies

OPINION: There is no Africa in African Studies.

17.8.2019

OPINION: There is no Africa in Africa n Studies.

The experience of studying Africa in London makes the writers question the validity of ' Africa n Studies' as is currently taught in Britain.

There is no Africa in African Studies. This has become apparent with the year we spent studying the continent in London. We are an intersectional group of African women who are on a search for a deeper understanding of Africa but continue to find ourselves in echo chambers of white noise.

The dubious beginnings of African Studies means that the absence of Africa in our British program should not have come as a surprise. The first class of our core African Studies module at the University College London (UCL), a Russell Group university, used Europe as a launching pad both theoretically and literally. The class began with “forgotten” pre-Victorian Africans from London and France who were skilled in European sport, music, and writing. These people were presented as important because their talents were regarded as extraordinary within European societies; they were the exceptions. Within that same class, Africa was described as the “other” and as a land of “gold and monsters.” Instead of focusing on the rich history of Africa and its magnitude of innovation, we were asked to think of “Africa as a reflection of Eurasia,” and were later told that there is no difference between Western and African theories. This idea is contrary to the work of numerous African scholars. Imagine, wanting to study Africa only to focus on how Africa is represented and seen by white Europeans?

A diversity of voices means including the voices of those who out of circumstance or choice may not have the academic and economic privilege of theorizing and knowing through textual sources. For example our learning would have been enriched through including study of African musicians, such as Emile YX? and Blick Bassy whose music is steeped in consciousness and history; spiritual practitioners of indigenous African religions such as Vodu and Ifa who in their memories and practices enact a large corpus of Fon and Yoruba lifeworlds; and women farmers across the continent whose practices with soils, seeds and climates are theory in action. Western academia may not consider these individuals theorists, but they offer theories and knowledge not always found in journals and books off the university press.

Students must push back and demand that African scholarship is the first and central source in African Studies versus being an afterthought. It is time to center Africa and African-based scholars in African Studies outside of the continent.

There is no Africa in African Studies. In the words of American novelist, Ralph Ellison: “I am invisible[…] simply because people refuse to see me.” The invisibility of Africa in African Studies has made the continent into a fetishized area of study.

. Please contact any of the authors if you wish to publish the longer open letter as well as to see a selection of readings and resources and to gain access to a Facebook group where academic resources are freely shared.

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