My first encounter with Africa was in the 1970s on a semester abroad program in Kenya. The program introduced me to Kenya’s rich cultural, historical, and physical landscapes and left me in awe of its youthful exuberance and optimism just 11 years after independence. After graduating from Tulane University, I went to study anthropology and African Studies at Indiana University (IU). My dissertation research at IU was on the political economy of pastoralism in north-central Kenya and resulted in several journal articles, a volume titled Lands at Risk in the Third World: Local-Level Perspectives (Westview, 1987; co-edited with M. Horowitz), and the basis for my first book, The Elusive Granary: Herder, Farmer and State in Northern Kenya (Cambridge, 1992 [reissued 2009]). Since my days as a graduate student in the late 1970s, I have been an active member of the African Studies Association (ASA).
For most of the past 30 years I have taught about and continued to conduct research in East Africa. My first appointment at the Institute for Development Anthropology (IDA) provided African-related teaching opportunities and field research possibilities. IDA had strong collaborations with many African universities, including the University of Nairobi and Eduardo Mondlane University (Mozambique), and these allowed for collaboration with key African scholars. My research focus broadened to include informality and trade, statelessness, and hunger and poverty. During 1994 to 2007 I was at the University of Kentucky where I continued to work, teach, and publish on Africa, including the books Living Under Contract: Contract Farming and Agrarian Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa (Wisconsin, 1994, co-edited with Michael Watts) and Somalia: Economy without State (Indiana, 2003; Amaury Talbot book prize and Choice Book Award). In 2008 I moved to Emory University in part because of its interdisciplinary African Studies Program, which the University of Kentucky did not have, and there I recently completed a book on Economic and Political Reform in Africa: Anthropological Perspectives (Indiana, In Press)
My focus on Africa also has shaped my professional service activities. I have worked on the Joint Committee on African Studies, Social Science Research Council (1992-1996); the African Dissertation Committee, Rockefeller Foundation (1997-1999); the Editorial Board of Bildhaan: The Journal of Somali Studies (2000-present); and the Editorial Board of the On-line African Bibliography Series, Oxford University Press (2011-present). In 2003 I served as the National Program Chair, Annual Meetings of the ASA, and in 2004 on the National Program Committee for the ASA meetings.
If elected to the Board of the ASA, I will work to broaden collaborations with other professional associations in Africa, Europe, and the USA; continue (and increase) the ASA’s program of support for African scholars and seek funding opportunities for this; foster working relationships with the media for positive, accurate representations of Africa; and reach out to students and young scholars to engage with ASA since they represent the future of creative scholarship and teaching on Africa. I am honored to have the possibility to serve on the ASA Board and, if elected, I will make the most of this opportunity to work with the ASA.