I became a facilitator of the Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa (Next Gen) program in 2017. Previously, I had been a Next Gen research grant recipient in its second cohort, 2013–2014. Having been a direct beneficiary of the material relief that this program provides and the intellectual community that it builds among its fellows, I had hoped that if there was a way to pay it forward, I would do so.
Until such visionary programs emerged, it had always seemed that African scholars must either undertake their doctoral studies in well-resourced universities outside of Africa or accept taking longer to complete their degrees at African universities, where they are overloaded with teaching commitments with little time and funding for sustained fieldwork and even less time for complex theorizing of their findings. To support these African scholars, Next Gen provides them with material relief through funds that buy out fellows from their teaching commitments to develop proposals, conduct fieldwork, and complete their writing.“I have sometimes felt both frustration and sadness that the rich findings of African scholars end up undertheorized because the Next Gen fellows see them as only significant to their local context, rather than engaging with the diverse global and African intellectual traditions and debates.”
The workshops that are a feature of the program provide an intellectual space for fellows to share their work with a diverse group of academic scholars and other fellows in allocated thematic groups. My group focused on the theme of “Gender, Violence and the State,” while other themes were “Development, Politics and the State,” “Political Violence,” “Law, Society and Justice,” “Peacebuilding,” and “History, Identity, and Memory.” The group discussions allow fellows to appreciate the global, continental, and local significance of their work. I have sometimes felt both frustration and sadness that the rich findings of African scholars end up undertheorized because the Next Gen fellows see them as only significant to their local context, rather than engaging with the diverse global and African intellectual traditions and debates. As the late Thandika Mkandawire bemoaned, Africa is “probably the only part of the world about which it is legitimate to publish without reference to local scholarship.”1Fred Hendricks, “Tribute: Thandika Mkandawire,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 38, no. 1 (2020): 1–4.
Working with Next Gen fellows revealed that they tend to be overly dependent on scholarship from the Global North and sometimes these theories and concepts have little relevance to their research. Many fellows, working in under-resourced universities, have little access to scholarship by Africans, limited experiences participating in Africa-based academic conferences, and conduct research in fields whose curricula venerate Global North scholarship. The recent September 29–October 1, 2021 colloquium on “Global Knowledge Production in African Studies,” jointly hosted by the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town, the Journal of Contemporary African Studies, and the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, showed the enduring structural challenges of academic publishing in Africa and the continued marginal citation of work on Africa by African scholars, especially those based in Africa.
I see my participation and that of fellow facilitators as working against these structural challenges and the politics of African knowledge production. Building generations of African scholars, whose work is empirically in complex local contexts and theoretically sophisticated, is one way of responding to these structural problems.“Next Gen has not just focused on achieving numerical gender parity among the fellows. Rather, the workshops deliberately center feminist pedagogies.”
Amina Mama has reflected that the Feminist Africa journal, which is the first African gender studies journal and was founded in 2002, was the result of an active commitment by African women scholars and activists thinking about feminist research to physically bring women across Africa together to demystify the research publication process and set an African feminist research agenda.2Amina Mama, “What Does It Mean to do Feminist Research in African Contexts?” Feminist Review 98, no. S1 (2011), e4–e20. At the Next Gen workshop in December 2019 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I had the great joy of being part of a roundtable discussion on “Mainstreaming Gender in Academic Writing” with Sarah Sasli and Yolande Bouka. The discussion showed me that Next Gen is aware that academic writing that takes gender seriously needs to be consciously cultivated. These discussions are important as they allow fellows, who are not conscious about the ways in which femininities and masculinities shape their research, to recognize and analyze gender as an important intersection of their research. In this way, Next Gen has not just focused on achieving numerical gender parity among the fellows. Rather, the workshops deliberately center feminist pedagogies.
Nomalanga Mkhize explains that “the task of the educated African person is not to sit, it is to build—ukufukuza.”3Nomalanga Mkhize, “John L Dube Lecture 2020 – Professor Nomalanga Mkhize” (lecture, Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa, January 7, 2021). For Mkhize, ukufukuza is based on the “umbilical sense of where to find our knowledge…buried in our histories, our mythologies, our languages in the ways in which our grandmothers and grandfathers and communities have brought us up.” When I read the many moving tributes to Thandika Mkandawire, who passed away in March 2020, I was struck by the fact that he was not only celebrated for his distinction as a thinker, but mostly for his unwavering commitment to building institutions that allowed African research to flourish. I see the intellectual agenda of Next Gen as the work of ukufukuza—building an African intelligentsia with an “umbilical” commitment toward a better future for Africa.
Whether it was working with a group of doctoral proposal fellows or those who are at the doctoral completion stage, I have always labored to make sure that each scholar embeds their research within lineages of African thought in the humanities and social sciences. I have also tried to encourage scholars to not be afraid to challenge dominant theories and concepts in their fields if their research provides important divergence to established literature—including concepts that are dominant in African studies. This is how new knowledge is created. Sometimes, I have felt frustration and sadness that African scholars view their research as simply confirming established trends, instead of using their research to confidently push global, continental, and local disciplinary boundaries.
Emails from fellows that follow the workshops are always energizing, because fellows leave the workshops with a renewed excitement, commitment, and a knowledge that they are part of a larger pan-African research community. Seeing so many graduates from this program become senior scholars in their institutions and countries is the tangible result of intellectual building. I have no doubt that these scholars will pay this forward in a variety of ways.
It was through this program that I came to feel confident as a feminist researcher in Africa, watching seasoned feminist academics such as Dzozi Tsikata, Stella Nyanzi, Adomako Ampofo, and Akosua Darkwah, among others. It was through Next Gen that I met my friend and comrade, the late Lindiwe Makhunga, who graduated with her PhD in March 2016 and sadly transitioned in October 2016. I will never forget the email and phone exchanges Lindiwe and I shared when she was doing her fieldwork in Rwanda and I was traveling across South Africa. Because of her and other feminists I met through this program, such as Yaliwe Clarke and Simangele Mayisela, I always believed that the work I was doing was important. As we celebrate ten years of Next Gen, I celebrate the community that this program has given me as an African feminist researcher. I remember and celebrate Dr. Lindiwe Makhunga, whose life and work lives on.