Image from Africa@LSE
Via Duncan Green, I just learned about the new Centre for Public Authority and International Development (CPAID), which is hosted at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa at LSE and funded with a £5 million, five-year grant from the Economic and Social Research Council. According to LSE’s announcement, CPAID will “study how families, clans, religious leaders, aid agencies, civil society, rebel militia and vigilante groups contribute to governance, along with formal and semi-formal government institutions. The research will mainly focus on the lives of ordinary people, in particular vulnerable and marginalised groups and populations … in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Ethiopia.”
These are definitely important topics, and a good corrective to the type of political science research that focuses overmuch on formal institutions in places where the state is weak. It’s always great to see more research on the DRC and other states affected by conflict, which tend to be understudied. And LSE’s got a very strong team of researchers.
Why is it seen as neutral and acceptable to build prominent centers of African studies outside of Africa, managed primarily by people who are not from Africa?
Why does the Africa Centre’s founder, who is himself from Uganda, feel that future African leaders are better off being trained in London than in their own countries?
Why are Northern academics so good at studying inequality and uneven post-colonial power dynamics in the South, and so bad at recognizing their own role in perpetuating inequality within the international scholarly community?
Let me be clear: I think it’s really important for every country to have scholars who are interested in international affairs. Places like the Centre for Africa or Berkeley’s own Center for African Studies do important work making African affairs accessible to their university communities, and to the broader scholarly community. And I myself am one of those foreign scholars who’s deeply interested in Africa.
My criticism is of the way in which the exclusion of African scholars from knowledge production about Africa is seen as normal and unremarkable. Even in the field of African studies, where local scholars would seem to have a comparative advantage, only 15% of studies are written by authors based on the continent. The situation is even worse in the sciences, where less than 1% of the world’s scientific research comes from Africa. We must be missing so many interesting voices, so many valuable contributions to knowledge, because we’re systematically underinvesting in African academics. Spending £5 million to set up a research center in the UK rather than somewhere like Accra or Nairobi (or Tamale or Eldoret or Kisangani) only perpetuates the problem.
Fortunately, there are other organizations working to remedy this inequality — and I’m in the process of starting one of them. Stay tuned for more announcements about this project in the next few days.