A case for keeping Africa-themed conferences in Africa

Such events could help close the networking gap between African scholars and global research communities, says Fife Ogunde

July 13, 2019
World networks with focus on Africa
Source: iStock/ktsimage

Research conferences and workshops that focus on themes relating to Africa should be held in Africa, irrespective of the organising institution. Holding the events in African countries would extend crucial networking opportunities to African scholars and would invest money into African institutions and economies.

I have never heard of a conference convening experts in European studies taking place in Nairobi or Asian history scholars meeting in Cape Town. Keeping research conferences on themes relating to Africa within Africa may appear altogether ultranationalistic and counterproductive with regard to globalisation ideals, but this view must be taken in context.

First of all, less than 2 per cent of the world’s research comes from Africa. The highest-ranked African university is not in the world’s top 150. 

Unlike the more recognised universities globally, many African institutions suffer from a lack of funding and proper infrastructure. This has negatively impacted their research output. Africa-based researchers and research institutions therefore need all the funding, exposure and research input they can get. 

While institutions outside Africa have centres dedicated to research in Africa, there is a difference between promoting research relating to Africa and promoting research coming from Africa. Many Africa-based researchers do not have the necessary platform for presenting their research on a global level, perhaps because of a lack of awareness of, or connection to, research opportunities. 

African researchers also need to build collaborations between African and non-African research organisations. This is different from the “parachute research” approach where scientists from the global north conduct research and give little credit to their local collaborators. York University’s Osgoode Law school in Toronto has set a good example through its collaboration with the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal studies to produce the Transnational Human Rights Review. 

Admittedly, there is no guarantee that hosting conferences with themes relating to Africa exclusively in Africa will change this. What the increased exposure would bring, however, is an opportunity for Africa-based researchers, who might face greater challenges to travel, to network with their peers and other seasoned academics in their field. 

Researchers based in Africa are also able to enjoy greater visibility in relation to their research work through presentations and discussions with more established colleagues.

Holding such events in Africa would also help mitigate the risk of researchers being refused travel visas. In June alone there were incidences of African academics being refused entry to the UK and Canada to attend academic conferences. 

One argument for holding these events overseas could be facilities. Large conference centres are common across Europe and North America. But suitable venues for conferences do not require a great deal of infrastructure. Many are held in hotels, university lecture theatres (or seminar rooms) with basic technology facilities that are also available in African institutions for this purpose. 

In any case, universities in the UK and the US have campuses in Mauritius (Aberystwyth and Middlesex universities and the universities of Wolverhampton and Central Lancashire) and Ghana (Webster University) where conferences could be hosted.

And countries such as South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana and Morocco are huge tourist destinations. There is no reason why they cannot also serve as desirable hubs for academic meetings. Keeping research conferences relating to Africa within Africa would serve as welcome investment for both African educational institutions and economies.

Social media and the internet has played a significant role in closing the networking gap between the African research community and researchers in other parts of the world. But this gap can be closed even further by using research conferences in Africa to draw global participation.

Fife Ogunde is a Canada-based research consultant. 

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