From Desmond Davies, London Bureaux
London, Mar 17, GNA – The new Executive Secretary of the Dakar-based Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) wants a move away from “the colonial or neo-colonial narrative about Africa” in terms of knowledge production relating to the continent.
Dr Godwin Murunga, a Kenyan academic, told the GNA: “The history and nature of knowledge production on Africa is skewed in favour of Western, largely foreign, academics.
“Too few people in the world want to listen to African academics speaking about African issues.
“It is only in Africa where many have a right to become specialists about the continent without as much as vising a quarter of it,” Dr Murunga said.
“We expect to construct new forms of knowledge that appreciate the complexity that Africa is and that reveal its relevance to ordinary peoples in Africa.
“Africans have been assaulted by all forms of policy prescriptions that undermine its capacities and render its knowledge suspect.
“CODESRIA must remain the one institution that keeps its faith in the experiences of ordinary Africans and that reveals the different ways in which its diversity is a strength,” said Dr Murunga, who until recently was the Director of King’s College, London’s African Leadership Centre in Nairobi.
“We must however invert the old model of North-South relations where African academics go to the North to learn about Africa.
“We need African academics to also go to the North and East and to go there with the aim of becoming specialists on the places they go to study,” he added.
Asked about CODESRIA’s relationship with African governments, Dr Murunga told the GNA: “Our engagement as academics with politicians has not been easy.
“Remember that the Council was founded by and became a home of academics who had been forced into exile.
“It also became the home where academic freedom was defended.
“Precisely because of this relationship of exile, and also the radical positions some of its members advanced after years of studying specific issues, African politicians have been less keen to embrace recommendations by knowledge institutions like CODESRIA,” Dr Murunga said.
He added, “There are even weird situations where locally generated recommendations are ignored in favour of expert ones from foreign scholars, never mind that some of those very foreign scholars would be regurgitating commonly known positions already discussed and debated in Common Rooms and staff seminars on African campuses.
“Further, the experience of higher education institutions in Africa over the last three or so decades has undermined their capacity to be effective leaders in knowledge production.
“This affects the Council which draws its human resource capacity from universities.
“In many countries in Africa today, governments are highly suspicious of the social sciences and humanities and are rolling out programmes that de-emphasise the social sciences and humanities while encouraging STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] subjects.
“CODESRIA must make the point that this should not be a relationship involving a trade-off of one against the other,” Dr Murunga told the GNA
On how influential African think tanks have been in shaping the future of the continent, he said he did not see CODESRIA exclusively as a think tank, adding: “It is indeed a space for thinking; but the knowledge it produces is guided by a set of principles.
“First, we keep fidelity to empirical data.
“Secondly, we deploy specific conceptual tools to discipline that data.
“Third, our bias is to reflect the concerns of our pan-African context.”
Dr Murunga said “While we do not seek to bias our data, we are convinced that, data must be conceptualised in ways that are relevant to Africa and Africans and preferably the ordinary lives of a plurality of people on the continent.
“Many think tanks bias their findings in favour of specific ideological and political orientations.
“A good many are involved in policy-driven research.
“We do not bias our knowledge in favour of specific ideologies or political orientations.
“We are interested in basic research and prefer that research drives policy,” he added.
“Given this, many state and non-state actors might find CODESRIA a less enthralling institution.
“But it is the character of credible knowledge producing institutions like CODESRIA to keep a healthy distance from partisanship in order to serve the high goal of producing knowledge that opens our understanding of the many-sidedness of our realities.
“In this case, its influence rests in its enduring value as an institution involved in long-term research; its capacity to transcend the fad and fancy of easy conclusions and outcomes,” the new Executive Secretary added.
Dr Murunga, a historian and political analyst currently teaching at the Institute of Development Studies of the University of Nairobi, told the GNA that being appointed the seventh Executive Secretary of CODESRIA in its 44-year history was a call “to duty that underscores my Kenyan citizenship but demands of me a continental vision.
“My task is to build on the work already done by my predecessors and ensure the process of consolidation and renewal pushes the Council into the apex institution it has been and deserves to be always.
“We will also leverage resources in order to mobilise more academics on the continent and Diaspora.”
In a statement announcing Dr Murunga’s appointment, the President of CODESRIA, Professor Dzodzi Tsikata, said: “… he had valuable teaching and management experience and a deep knowledge of the higher education landscape in Africa.
“His appointment by the Executive Committee during its recent meeting in Accra brings to a close, a long search and selection process in which a high-level pan-African Search Committee played a major role,” she added.
Prof Tsikata of the Institute of Statistical Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana said that for the fact that Dr Murunga was a member of the Executive Committee of CODESRIA for two consecutive terms (2005-2011), would bring to the organisation “many years of robust scholarship as evidenced by the incisive analysis that characterised his numerous scholarly publications”.