Sunday, October 22, 2017

Are All African Intellectuals Studying African Studies? An Auto-Critical Response to Issa Shivji

Are All African Intellectuals Doing African Studies?

Chambi Chachage

It is difficult, indeed redundant, to respond to someone or something you almost fully agrees with. However, when a point of disagreement close to one’s own heart, no matter how small, emerges, one is bound to respond. So, here I am, responding to Shivji’s take on African Studies.

Shivji presents a profound personal and collective “auto-critique” of African intellectuals. In doing so, however, he singles out a “few, brilliant ones” who “migrate to the North joining ivy leagues.” Although he does not name names, one can sense that the example par excellence is none other than his friend and colleague during the heydays of the radical Dar es Salaam School of the 1970s, Mahmood Mamdani, currently based at Columbia and Makerere. Shivji queries:

Karim Hirji, another colleague of Mamdani during the famed Dar es Salaam School, shares Shivji’s nostalgic sentiments. However, Hirji is more overt as he does not shy away from naming names. In his recent book on The Enduring Relevance of Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, he devotes a whole section on Mamdani as “an instructive example”:

Contrast that with what Shivji lamented about in 2003 on Mamdani’s apparent metamorphosis:

This background enables us to see where Shivji is coming from when he thus laments in 2017:

As someone who has studied African Studies in both the ‘Global South’ and the ‘Global North’, I find it difficult to agree with Shivji’s rhetorical question that seems to imply that all our studies are African Studies. For instance, to study Sociology in Africa does not necessarily makes one study African Studies. Its ‘holy trinity’ remains Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Marx Weber and not Ibn Khaldun, W.E.B. Dubois and Ida B. Wells. In my erstwhile discipline, Psychology, it is the same story – we start with the likes of Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers rather than Frantz Fanon and Chabani Manganyi. An African student in the Philosophy department may graduate knowing the German George Hegel without having heard of the Ghanaian Anton Wilhelm Amo who taught and published in German universities in the 18th century way before Hegel. As Ernest Wamba dia Wamba reminds us, the “foundation of African scientific research is still based on a philosophy of returning to the Western sources.” Shivji himself has captured this intellectual predicament in regard to his discipline elsewhere:

So, no, we are not all doing African Studies. However, all African intellectuals ought to do it irrespective of our disciplinary boundaries. Harry Garuba has consistently made a case for this by highlighting that the study of Africa has not yet been fully integrated in the traditionally Western disciplines. The “study of Africa”, he aptly notes, “was calling upon us to open the disciplines rather than adopt and justify their self-admittedly fragmentary understandings of the world.” It is what he refers to as the “blinkers of the inherited disciplines” that needs to be fully smashed. What is a better way of doing it than ‘Bringing back African Studies to Africa’?


Anonymous October 23, 2017 at 12:09 PM  

Hi Chambi,

Thanks for the good analysis. I think I am following the discussion only up to a point. So, if I am a veterinary scientist at Sokoine University in Morogoro, how can I do African Studies? What ought to be African Studies (Study of Africa) to me? Would you say I am doing African Studies only when my scientific research is not based on "philosophy of returning to the Western sources"? The entire veterinary medicine discipline is based on the philosophy of Western science.

Chambi Chachage October 24, 2017 at 6:00 PM  

Anon, that is exactly the point. There is a lot of scientific knowledge that Western Science learned from Africa/Africans. In this case of medicine, this PhD that will soon be published into a book is instructive:


Chambi Chachage October 25, 2017 at 3:59 PM  

A response to Anon from Professor Adolfo Mascarenhas:

I saw your response to Chachage less than half an hour after you sent it….Unfortunately had to rush to sse my wife in the hospital. I have been working on these aspects since I left the University more than 20 years ago.

1) Every one of us is unique

2) Therefore it follows that there is no family in the world, no tribe/nation that has no knowledge, science or the drive to survive….some of this knowledge is really high tech…at -25c degrees we would not survive for more than 20 minutes, ditto San people who can survive 4 days without water.

3) True we have been brain washed that as you quite strikingly put it “Start Quote" The entire veterinary medicine discipline is based on the philosophy of Western science. End Quote That is your perspective

4) The Dept of Sc. Tech & Environment asked me to give a keynote address on Indigenous Knowledge & Development. The brainwashing is so complete that few off the officials actually believed me when I told them that Vasco d’Gama did not discover Africa The Chinese had already produced a silk map outlining the shape of Africa and the Indian Ocean & exhibited in RSA during their Independence.

5) Guajarati/Arab sailors knew about the trade winds for the better part of 2000 years

6) This does not mean we do not need modern science we need both Indigenous & modern

7) It’s happening …as Advisor to the National Museum of Kenya, the Board found it difficult to believe that a Veterinarian studying (in USA) the DNA of sheep could contribute much to the Museum of Kenya. How mistaken they were.

I could go on and on

A little suggestion:

I spent about 30 months in Morogoro Town and left in 1944. My father worked in the Boma. Would it not be a great idea to have a Museum in Morogoro ? A Museum of Survival, Food Diversity.

Chambi Chachage October 25, 2017 at 4:02 PM  

A comment from Dr. Amber Murrey-Ndewa :

I think that they’ve answered the question themselves in the comment - which is to say that an African veterinary science is possible. I am thinking here of arguments like those that Chandra Kant Raju has argued in the discipline of mathematics:


Chambi Chachage October 25, 2017 at 4:04 PM  

A response from Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba:

Thanks Chambi for your sharing the response.
There are two questions, in my opinion, involved in the issue.1) How education has been organized since the emergence of the bourgeoisie--its parcellization--and how in the colonies, following the civilizing mission, the ideological object of education has been conceived and organized. Knowing Africa and thinking Africa, often separated--one is epistemological and one is ontological (people do think Africa and those thoughts exist, but not necessarily accurate). There was a time a global study of Africa along its social transformations was attempted, but this suffered from the need to respond to parcellization. 2) The existence of Africanism as the problematic or paradigm for the Western study of Africa. This has been questioned from within and from without; but its replacement has not yet been deepened to provoke a rethinking of all other so-called social disciplines being taught in Africa. 2a, Academic Marxism, often, has not respected the core principles of that problematic: concrete analysis of the concrete society; everywhere and always, it is right/correct/ just to rebel against the reactionaries; and it is the people (or for some: rebelling people) and the people alone who make history. This would have given us a different way also of conceiving Africa and organizing its knowledge. Right now, things seem to be apart, one may study a certain discipline knowing very little of Africa. I hope I made some sense.


Anonymous January 28, 2018 at 10:58 AM  

Thanks Chambi, Prof. Adolf, and Dr. Amber for your responses.

Great that you directed me to the work of Carolyne Roberts. I will track down her book when it comes out. It was refreshing to read a response from Prof. Ernest. I also enjoyed a piece by Raju.

So, it is true that the Sukumas, the Maasais, and the Fulanis were doing veterinary/animal science well before the Western style veterinary science was invented. It is also possible that the Western veterinary/animal science as we teach and do it today learned a lot from indigenous veterinary science, meaning that we can safely say we are doing African studies (Study of Africa). And for that reason, it would be a mistake to say that indigenous veterinary science is missing in the curriculum. But veterinary/animal science as we do and teach it today mostly seek to modernise/replace our wafugaji ways of doing things so that they can do it in Western style (which we approve of as being superior to any other and legitimate). Minister Lukuvi is on record for ordering Swiss farmers in Magugu (Babati) to stop raising cattle in Maasai style and modernise like true Europeans. Failure to do so, he threatened to kick the Swiss farmers out the country. The point is we do not really teach our students indigenous veterinary science at vet school (whether or not the veterinary science we are teaching learned a lot from the indigenous veterinary/animal science). In other words, we teach to make students leave the vet school with the attitude/dispositions that the Sukuma's way of herding cattle is primitive, outdated and must change/modernise and do it like Danish farmers so that practices are compatible with 'official' veterinary science. In this way, are we doing African studies (study of Africa) really? Or 'Western study of Africa'?

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