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Grand Finale Conference: Intellectuals, Nationalism and the Pan-African Ideal

CODESRIA 30th Anniversary: Grande Finale Conference, 10-12 December 2003, Dakar, Senegal)

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It will be recalled that the Council was established in 1973 out of the collective will of African social researchers to create a viable forum in Africa through which they could strive to transcend all barriers to knowledge production and, in so doing, play a critical role in the democratic development of the continent. As part of the series of events planned to mark the anniversary, the Council is organising a major international conference at its headquarters in Dakar, Senegal, from 08 to 11 December, 2003. The theme of the conference is: Intellectuals, Nationalism and the Pan-African Ideal

The interconnection between knowledge and identity has been a recurring theme in African social research and knowledge production. Indeed, this interconnection loomed large in the founding principles that informed the establishment of CODESRIA and other similar African regional networks. The central question posed could be summarised as follows: What kind of independent Africa should be built through the collective efforts of the people and what role should intellectuals play in this? It was a complex question which covered the entire spectrum of the African experience, as defined historically and contemporaneously, and it was clear from the outset that no easy, formulaic answers could be proffered. However, engagement with such a question also suggested the existence of a broad consensus that the basic principles and goals that underpinned African nationalism and the pan-African ideal were impeccable although the mechanisms and instruments for their operationalisation into a strategy for democratic development were open to negotiation and contestation.

The earliest generation of African scholars cut their teeth in the context of the nationalist struggles for self-determination and independence, struggles underpinned by a broad-based quest for an African renaissance and the unity of African peoples. In the immediate aftermath of independence, with the fire of nationalism and pan-Africanism still burning strongly, intellectuals were called upon to respond to the challenges of sustaining independence and making it meaningful for the broader populace in the medium and long terms. Whilst these challenges provided scholars with a clear historical context for the definition of their identities and role, the record of the post-independence nationalist period, including especially that of the politicians who inherited state power, and the organisational framework they adopted for the realisation of the dream of pan-Africanism, left a great deal to be desired. Little wonder then that the scholarly community’s relationship with the nationalist and pan-Africanist projects gradually became strained. Matters were not helped by the crystallisation, in the post-independence period, of myriad political, economic, and social problems that together resulted in direct challenges to post-independence nation-statism by social movements of the disenchanted and intellectuals sympathetic to their claims.

There is a considerable range of theoretical, methodological and empirical questions which need to be revisited as part of our quest to deepen our understanding of the knowledge and identity nexus in Africa today. Fortunately, such an enterprise can draw on the rich output of some of the key pillars of African nationalism and the pan-African ideal, many of whom were intellectuals in their own right, in order to produce a harvest of reflections and debate. Indeed, a re-reading of some of the classical and canonical texts produced on nationalism and pan-Africanism in the light of recent experience and challenges is a step which is long overdue; so also is a re-thinking of the assumptions that pervaded most of the literature on the origins, growth, decline and revival of the nationalist and pan-Africanist projects. Furthermore, the conference is expected to offer participants an opportunity to critique the different variants of the nationalist and pan-Africanist historiography that have been produced and the alternative historiographies offered by Marxism, the dependency school, the neo-patrimonialist/rent-seeking approach, neo-liberalism and more recent studies on the post-colony. Similarly, landmark experiences that offered an impetus to the growth of African nationalism and the pan-African movement at critical moments in the history of the continent and its peoples such as the slave trade, the so-called legitimate trade, colonialism, institutionalised racism on the continent and in the Diaspora, neo-colonialism, and the Cold War and its aftermath will also be considered in the conference.

From frameworks that are either decidedly celebratory or cautiously critical to those which are content to dismiss outrightly or caricature the entire nationalist project and the dream of African unity, a wide scope exists for a serious, multidisciplinary discussion to be joined on the interface of nationalism and pan-Africanism in the process of knowledge production and identity formation. The practices of African governments in their quest to give content and meaning to the nationalist and pan-Africanist projects, as well as the consequences of the economic, political, social, ideological and cultural choices they made, also deserve to be explored. The efforts being deployed across the continent to revive sub-regional cooperation and integration projects, the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity into the African Union amidst renewed calls for an African renaissance, the intellectual challenges arising from the crises of the post-independence nation-state system (including the resurgence of micro-nationalism, xenophobia, and racism), the acceleration in the pace of globalisation and current challenges to the international multilateral system under the post-Cold War Pax Americana suggest the need for a bold re-thinking and re-reading of the nationalist experience and the pan-African ideal. Such an exercise is made all the more necessary by the concurrent and simultaneous dialectic of micro-nationalism, nationalism, regionalism and globalism which define the African world today and which are forcing a serious reflection on the ways in which citizenship can be re-conceptualised beyond the confines of the existing national-territorial order. CODESRIA’s 30th Anniversary Conference is proposed as a forum for the facilitation of the retrospective and prospective reflection that is required.

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