Peter Lewis
African Studies
Johns Hopkins University

My interest in Africa was sparked during the ‘second decade of independence’ in the 1970s. I worked as a young activist in New York and California in support of independence struggles in Southern Africa and the movement against apartheid. These commitments spurred my concerns about the possibilities for long-term development and change on the continent. At the University of California, Berkeley, I studied issues of state formation and economic change, pursuing those themes through graduate school at Princeton and in my professional career. I currently direct a graduate program in African Studies that enrolls a diverse group of students concerned with governance, development, conflict, and Africa-related policy issues.

An internship in Nigeria during graduate school drew my central focus toward Africa’s most populous state. For more than twenty years I have worked in the areas of comparative politics and political economy, primarily in Nigeria and West Africa. My research and writing focus on democratization, civil society, alternatives in development strategy, and the political foundations of economic development. I have authored and edited several books, most recently Growing Apart: Oil, Politics and Economic Change in Indonesia and Nigeria, which offers a cross-regional comparison of institutions and economic performance. I have also published articles in the Journal of Modern African Studies, African Affairs, World Politics, the Journal of Democracy and many others. I have also periodically collaborated with the Afrobarometer research network, surveying and analyzing public attitudes in Africa’s new democracies.
In all my work, I have been motivated by the questions of how Africa can move out of poverty and dependence to offer better prospects for average people, and how Africans can achieve legitimate, capable government that can do justice to their aspirations. I have addressed these concerns in theoretical and policy settings.

Those of us with a personal and academic commitment to Africa look to the ASA for professional cooperation, as a vehicle for developing knowledge in our fields, and as a voice for articulating a better understanding of the continent. In recent years, the ASA has made encouraging progress in meeting some crucial organizational challenges. Finances have improved, information technology has been renovated, and member services are more responsive and diverse. I hope we can consolidate these strengths of the Association, while also building membership and extending the scope of our programs.

Over the decades, scholars engaged in the study of Africa have made fundamental contributions in such areas as comparative politics, anthropology, sociology, and development economics, among other fields. I see benefits in admitting the widest range of approaches to the study of Africa, and taking advantage of new methods and concepts. Strengthening our forms of organizational collaboration could expand membership, leverage resources, and encourage intellectual vitality.  The ASA can also extend links with African colleagues through increased support for travel, joint workshops and research, and exchanges. As Africa attracts greater attention from academic and policy communities, the Association can play a leading role in shaping perspectives around the continent.