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Reconstructing the global academy: Falola and African scholarship

In my last reflection on the global personality, Professor Toyin Falola, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, United States of America, and Africa’s preeminent historian, I situated a critical dimension of his intellectual eminence within the triad factors of Nigeria’s, and Africa’s, development, the contradictions of higher education and the troubles that have attended the significance of the humanities in Nigeria and in Africa. With Falola, as with all those we have considered significant intellectuals, scholarship goes on at the intersection of several dynamics that speak to not only knowledge production, but also to the relevance of knowledge production in a particular context within which that knowledge is produced. At a recent seminar on retrieving Nigerian universities for the task of engendering national development, which held at the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Professor Falola facilitated the coming together of several major actors in Nigerian tertiary education, including vice chancellors, the National Universities Commission (NUC) and a significant representation of the civil society. The occasion was to generate more policy insights that will complement and further articulate those already in Professor Olufemi Mimiko’s new book, Getting Our Universities Back on Track, a quasi-autobiography that narrates his experience as a vice chancellor and the challenges and perspectives that could regenerate the universities in Nigeria as agents of transformation.

Falola has distinguished himself as someone who has traversed several societies, institutions and countries of the world building linkages and networks of intellectuals and scholars. What distinguishes Falola’s scholarship, as I see it, is the attempt to build a solid framework of alliances, from the diaspora to Nigeria and across the continent, that could imbue scholarship with a robust cross-continental, cross-cultural, cross-intellectual understanding and practices that will make scholarship serve its mandated responsibility of fashioning new thoughts, ideas, insights, perspectives and paradigms that will enable us as Africans rethink our postcolonial direction. This requires not just speaking at conferences, writing books about postcolonial recovery or agitating for Africa’s development. It literally means taking steps to see some of these ideas come to live. Let me illustrates with some questions that will make my point about the scholarship of Falola. In what ways does African scholarship provide a better understanding of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that decimated Africa? How do intellectual productions significantly affect Africa’s unenviable status as the poorest continent in the world, and the most underdeveloped? How can the deployment of knowledge production be made so strategic as to infuse our efforts at transforming our situations as Africans? In attempting these questions, we come to the very heart of what makes Toyin Falola one of the most distinguished African scholars. Scholarship, for him, goes beyond just producing tomes and treatises that get published and advanced the scholar’s status and fortune. I cannot boast of having a deeper than acquaintance knowledge of Professor Falola, but it is very easy to gather his itinerary across the globe by paying critical attention. I however know sufficiently enough to surmise that he seems to be more in Nigeria and traversing across Africa than in the United States to assure us that he has not been swallowed by the diaspora and its contradictory influences.

His involvement with UNESCO is connected with a slave trade project that could facilitate more and better understanding of slavery. He is also involved with the African Union as well as other continental and global organisation, including being a significant scholar linked to the Library of Congress in the United States, and not least, affiliated with the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). All these signify a crusading scholar who constantly poses to himself the question of what his scholarship can do for Africa, and restlessly pursue means and ways by which he could give the answers institutional forms. For instance, when he founded the Pan-Africa University Press, it was an initiative motivated by the imperatives of knowledge production that privileges Africa as a center. The Africa Conference that holds yearly at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as the Toyin Falola Conference on Africa and the African Diaspora, has become a yearly gathering of African scholars, both established and aspiring, to brainstorm and deliberate on Africa, its challenges and its future possibilities.

Last year, 2016, I was present at a lecture Falola delivered at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ibadan, on what he calls “ritual archives”. The thesis of this lecture was a critical challenge to African scholars to rethink the concept of the archive and its dominant western and imperialist meaning which has deprived our own cultural heritage of their archival and epistemological relevance as sources of legitimate knowledge for understanding our being and ourselves. A lecture like this is far from being merely intellectual. On the contrary, it calls African scholars to immediate and urgent actions on the relevance of their pontifications. Scholarship must always have consequences.

And the consequences must always flow from our understanding of how what we research, write and teach impacts the dynamics of social actions and cultural issues across the continent. Africa today is in the very midst of a critical postcolonial predicament that has not only incapacitated development but has equally undermined democratic governance. Today, Africa represents poverty, unemployment, war and conflicts, infrastructural gap, and all manner of dysfunctionality. Yet, in a radio interview he granted to the Diamond Radio, the official radio station of the University of Ibadan, after yet another keynote address to a conference on the humanities, Professor Falola painted the picture of an incurable optimist about the future of Africa. If Africa could overcome the slave trade and the ravages of colonialism, according to him, then Africa can overcome its protracted assortment of postcolonial ills and come of age as a continent of hope and development.

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  1. Ezekiel Okeke 13th August 2017 at 6:47 am

    The basics is understanding the backgrounds and values. African backgrounds and values differs from other continents, one must build on African backgrounds and values for African developments and advancements. University etc. are places to produce those that creates jobs, not job seekers. Points I emphasized in my book THE AFRICAN VICTORY, e-book version available on 900books.com, Snapplify.com

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