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Presidential Scholar, Stella Nyanzi

 What are your thoughts about being selected to participate in the ASA’s Presidential Scholar programme?

I am greatly honoured to be selected as one of the three ASA Presidential fellows for 2013. Knowing that the selection was from among a competitive pool of solid scholars in the continent reaffirms me in this academic journey as a younger scholar firmly placed within a public university in Africa. The selection also brings me a deep sense of responsibility to be loyal to the production of knowledge about Africa in Africa-centric ways. I am delighted that I will be contributing towards the discussions held during my visiting fellowship at the Center for African Studies, Rutgers University and at ASA’s annual meeting in Baltimore later this month.

 

What do you hope you will gain from this experience?

I hope to variously gain from this experience of being an ASA Presidential fellow. By sharing and presenting aspects of my current scholarship and research, I hope to grow my thinking and critical writing through the feedback and exposure I will receive. In addition to presenting my work as part of a panel at ASA’s annual meeting, I have also been scheduled to share my scholarship with students and faculty of different departments associated with the Center for African Studies at Rutgers University where I will be based as a visiting fellow. I look forward to receiving stimulating critique through discussions and debates that will sharpen the radical edge of my critical analyses. I plan to expand my network of African/ Africanist scholars through this experience, particularly by connecting with faculty, researchers, and students. I know very little about the United States of America – mainly from films, television and limited interactions with some Americans circulating in my African spaces. Thus I look forward to learning much more about this powerful country during the short time that I will live there as part of the ASA Presidential Fellows Program. I am eager to expand my social knowledge of the everyday lives of people in the different areas I will be temporarily located. Lastly, I will be constantly looking out for more sources of inspiration for my creativity, thinking and scholarship. If I successfully find some more fuel for my inspiration, I will be most contended.

 

In what ways do you think you might use this experience to mentor other African scholars in your community?

Being selected as an ASA Presidential fellow has added to my credibility as a mentor for other African scholars in the multiple communities that I belong to. In addition to validating my scholarship through association with the highly reputable African Studies Association, this opportunity has the potential to impress African scholars who look to America for validation. I have already received requests for information about how others can apply for this fellowship. I clarified that the selection process was internal to ASA in collaboration with the African Humanities Program of the American Council of Learned Societies. I have been and will continue sharing knowledge about both ASA and the AHP programmes in my everyday life, personal social networking forums, and on our institutional website.

 

Have you attended ASA Annual Meetings in the past? If so, what impressions did you take away?

I have never attended any ASA annual meetings. The meetings are exclusively American in their spatiality/ geography of location. I mainly studied at home in Uganda, and went to the United Kingdom for my postgraduate and doctoral studies. This will be my first ASA annual meeting, and thus I am grateful for the opportunity.

 

In what ways do you feel the ASA can better engage African scholars working on pertinent issues that lie at the intersection of African Studies, on the African continent?

ASA can better engage African scholars based in Africa by demystifying the label ‘African Studies’ which many of us who work on producing knowledge about Africa do not identify with. For example although I have written and researched only about diverse contexts in Africa, I do not ever self-label as one doing African Studies. I identify as an anthropologist based in Africa and studying Africa in order to produce knowledge about and for Africa, but not as a specialist of African Studies – although what I study is indeed African Studies. Breaking the exclusionary boundaries (- whether they are real or imaginary) around African Studies will contribute towards opening up further engagement with African scholars in Africa; particularly those without physical access to American universities where “African Studies” is much more widely chosen as an academic specialization.

The journals produced by ASA reach many universities in Africa. I have been reading African Studies Reviews for years without necessarily associating it with ASA – perhaps a weakness in my ability to make connections between seemingly disparate variables. Since we receive these journals regularly, it will be useful to strengthen the visibility of the links of these journals to ASA. Furthermore, encouraging the publication of quality articles submitted by African scholars in Africa will better this engagement. It may be useful, towards this end, to consider ways of making publishing in these journals an achievable and practicable reality for Africa-based scholars, for example through having writing workshops that improve the writing abilities of potential contributors so that they stand higher chances of having their submissions accepted.

The ASA Presidential Fellowship Programme will go a long way in advertising ASA as a viable medium of presenting one’s work for junior faculty in universities in Africa. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of the fellowship’s ability to literally carry junior faculty from Africa to attend an ASA annual meeting. Multiple barriers of access to ASA are broken; thereby making this one of the few opportunities available to junior faculty members of universities in Africa. Many more will want to know about this opportunity, thereby expanding the knowledge of ASA among African scholars located in Africa. Reporting about our experiences through different local platforms is one way that recipient fellows can further spread word about ASA.

In addition, availing similar opportunities to more categories of Africa-based scholars to participate in the range of ASA activities will increase this engagement. It may be a good idea to limit the number of times an individual can benefit from travel support to attend ASA activities so that a wider spectrum of Africa-based scholars obtain the opportunity. 

 

What are your thoughts about the role that the ASA can play in helping to consolidate African Studies as a discipline in African universities?

Firstly, I do not think that it is correct to call African Studies a discipline. I firmly believe that the beauty of African Studies is its multi-disciplinarity, trans-disciplinarity, cross-disciplinarity and inter-disciplinarity. Is it possible to make African Studies into a ‘discipline’? Is such a transformation desirable? I am not sure. For me, the sparkle of African Studies is found in its ability to allow one to speak intelligibly from the very grounded locale of a discipline to others who are similarly grounded in different disciplines. To ably speak across disciplines and yet have meaningful intellectual intercourse is not only wholesome but also immensely generative of cross-fertilized knowledge(s) about Africa. If African Studies is consolidated into a discipline, it will lose itself; its soul will die or else metamorphose into another. I do not want ASA to have any role in achieving such a transformation.

Secondly I think that the rationale of having African Studies in African universities has no doubt been well-articulated and well-argued, leading to the creation and thriving of institutes, centres or departments of African Studies in universities in the continent. However, I am also aware of the counter-arguments against having African Studies taught in select units of African universities. I firmly believe that all students and faculty based in Africa must be required to be African-centric in their acquisition, production and transmission of knowledge in, about, of, for and with Africa. I believe entirely that all knowledge generation within African universities must integrate processes of de-centering, de-colonization, de-racialization, queerying and even making feminist the curricula, epistemologies and scholarship of all scholars in Africa. Thus for me, the soul of African Studies must be at the core of all scholarship in African universities – whether the Social Sciences and Humanities, or the Natural and Physical Sciences.

 

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