At a moment of social uncertainty and political instability here in the US and abroad, it is rather paradoxical that the African Studies Association is enjoying robust health. As we approach our 60th anniversary, we are on solid financial footing; we continue to attract new and diverse members; our publications are well respected. Our annual meeting and our publications continue to showcase the intellectual vibrancy and the diligent scholarship of our members.
Our members are academics and policymakers, novelists, filmmakers and activists. The majority of our members are based in the States, but their countries of origin include not only the US but also Sudan, Somalia, South Africa, Canada, China, and the UK. In 2016, we had approximately 2000 members; around 100 new members attended our first time attendees breakfast at the annual meeting.
Our annual meeting last year in Washington, DC was one of the most well attended meetings in our history, with approximately 2100 attendees chairing, presenting, responding, or participating in over 350 different sessions. Thought provoking presentations were given by Dorothy Hodgson, who gave the Presidential Lecture; Peter Geschiere, who gave the African Studies Review distinguished lecture; Achille Mbembe, who presented the Abiola Lecture, and Takyiwaa Manuh, who delivered the Hormuud Lecture. We also enjoyed an inspiring presentation by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo and Mĩcere M. Gĩthae Mũgo to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their play, The Trial of Dedan Kimathi. The conference in DC truly reflected the breadth of our disciplinary interests and scholarly imaginations and on behalf of the ASA, I would like to thank our program co-chairs, Benjamin Lawrance and William Moseley, as well as the Local Arrangements Committee, Alem Hailu, Carl LeVan and Eve Ferguson.
Anniversaries offer an occasion to glance back, but also to move forward. For the ASA to face the future with confidence we require additional funding principally from our members. To build on our growing strength and to heighten our visibility both here and on the African continent, there are at least five areas of the association that could be aided greatly by contributions from our members. First and foremost, we want to provide more generous financial support and encouragement to our coordinate organizations to host conferences or workshops on the continent, or to bring participants from the continent to the annual meeting. We have already recently adopted an initiative that will aid coordinate organizations (which we announce in this issue) but with donations from members we can increase the availability of funding for coordinate organizations to continue and expand their work.
Emerging scholars bring fresh ideas and energy to our association and for our second initiative, we would like to aid them in their efforts to incubate new projects, to build networks with other members, and to engage in professional development. In this issue, Ruth Murambadoro, the representative of the Emerging Scholars Network on the ASA Board, will discuss some of the challenges and initiatives of members who are at an early stage in their professional careers. One way in which the ASA has already assisted emerging scholars is through our travel grants. These allow scholars to attend the annual conference, to conduct research, or to go to other meetings.
The ASA’s 50th Anniversary Fund provided $20,000 in travel support for emerging scholars to attend the conference in Dakar last June that the ASA held in partnership with the American Anthropological Association. Co-hosted by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) and the West Africa Research Association (WARA) this was our first conference on the African continent and attracted nearly 200 attendees. More conferences are planned in the future in partnership with AAA and the American Political Science Association. With the help of generous contributions from members to the 60th anniversary fund, we could sustain or increase travel support, especially for scholars based on the continent.
Third, for many members, our annual meeting continues to be the venue where they feel most intellectually alive, where they get validation for their work, and where they renew friendships and partnerships. It is our community. Our goal for the future is to further enrich our meeting with greater participation from Africa based members. Beyond travel grants, we want to double the number of fellows from the continent who participate in the ASA Presidential Fellows program. This program supports scholars, artists, journalists and others based in African institutions to attend the ASA Annual Meeting. It serves an important role supporting the work of Africa based members and strengthening the association’s linkages to the continent. In this issue of ASA News, we include articles from those who have participated in, or acted as hosts for, the Presidential Fellows program.
Fourth, our keynote lectures such as the Abiola lecture, the Hormuud lecture and the African Studies Review distinguished lecture are well attended and important events at our annual meeting. Since Ali Mazrui gave the inaugural lecture honoring Bashorun MK Abiola lecture in 1993, we have had many distinguished speakers including Ama Ata Aidoo, Sylvia Tamale, and Makau Mutua share their insights with us. Our newest sponsored lecture, the Hormuud lecture, addresses leadership, development and democracy in Africa. We would like to continue to offer these inspiring lectures at our meetings.
Finally, the recent Executive Order barring entry into the United States for 90 days of citizens from seven countries including three countries located on the African continent and the measures prohibiting all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days demand that the African Studies Association advocate strongly on behalf of its members and defend the ethical principles it has adopted. Since the opportunities we have to represent our views are rare, we must be better prepared to articulate publicly the values of the Association and to advocate for continued funding of Title VI, FLAS, and Fulbright. The development of programs of advocacy will ensure the ASA is leveraging its position as the flagship learned society in African Studies. They will help us to raise awareness about African Studies, African Issues, and international education more broadly.
I’m extremely proud of the accomplishments of the ASA over the past 60 years and honored to be leading it during our anniversary. I’m pleased to note that all of our board members have already contributed to the 60th anniversary fund and on behalf of the board, I would be most grateful if members could contribute $6, $60 or $600 to the ASA.
University of Michigan
President of the ASA