CODESRIA has learned with extreme sadness and sorrow of the passing on of Prof. Pius Adesanmi in the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 that crashed upon take-off from Addis Abeba’s Bole International Airport en route to Nairobi on March 10th 2019. Until his death, Prof. Adesanmi was a Professor of English and African Literature and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University in Canada. A graduate of the University of Ilorin Ibadan University for his Bachelor’s and Masters degrees, Pius obtained his PhD from the University of British Columbia, Canada, taught at Pennsylvania State University in the United States before he left for Carleton University, Canada. At Carleton, Pius has remained an avid intellectual combining both administrative tasks and intellectual engagement. Through his work and engagements, both in Canada and in Africa, Pius came to the notice of CODESRIA.
At the 91st meeting of its Executive Committee, the Council adopted a policy on honouring members of the CODESRIA community. The policy allows the Secretariat to issue statements in honour of colleagues who have made a distinguished contribution to knowledge that reflects and advances the mandate of CODESRIA. Pius embodied the core principles that sit at the heart of the mandate of CODESRIA.
Though he does not formally appear in the registers of CODESRIA as a member until 2018, Pius’ intellectual work intersected with that of the Council. His convictions, his take on the politics of knowledge production, his interest in mentoring young academics and his expectation, indeed his demand for excellence, all reflect positions that the Council holds, cherishes and advances. It was therefore easy to convince Pius, at a meeting of Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program Advisory Council in Nairobi in March 2018 that he needed to engage the Council activities more.
On the basis of such discussions, Pius was invited to the 15th General Assembly with the express task of observing the Assembly and submitting a critical piece on the proceedings. Pius was struck by a tension between the social sciences and the humanities at the Assembly and offered to support our work to enhance the interdisciplinary conversations he sensed the Council wanted to encourage. He was on course to submit this critical piece to a syndicated weekly column carried in four different papers. He also was on course to submit an expanded version of the piece for publication in the CODESRIA Bulletin when the hand of death robbed us of this rare privilege.
Pius had also just accepted to support the Council as a resource person for the Meaning-Making Research Initiative (MRI) Methodology and Scholarly Workshop to be held in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire from 1st to 5th April 2019. Additionally, he had accepted to be on the scientific team of advisors working with CODESRIA’s Carnegie Corporation of New York-funded programme on African Diaspora support to African Universities. The indefatigable worker, Pius had also just set up a new team that he was leading on a Carnegie-supported project on Higher Education. There is no doubt that the crash has robbed us of a young, energetic, boisterous colleague, one whose presence among us elevated us and bestowed a sense of direction to our work.
At the intellectual level, one always discerned in Pius a proud African scholar; one who believed in excellence and roundly dismissed mediocrity in African scholarship. He critiqued vehemently those who understood African scholarship to be mediocre and second grade simply because it was produced by Africans. He elevated Africa’s position in the global knowledge industry by being prolific while safeguarding quality and insisting on representing Africa from the vantage point of Africans. He did not suffer any conflict resulting from his location in Canada. In fact, a key part of his contribution to Carleton University is his enormous work as Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University. Many people will have noticed that Pius was particularly passionate about mentoring postgraduate students, notably in Africa. He travelled the continent extensively, holding Postgraduate workshops in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. He also set up an African Doctoral Lounge, a virtual mentorship, dialogue, and opportunity-sharing platform on Facebook which grew in leaps and bounds in no time, affording young scholars a rare meeting point across boundaries of scholarship and geography.
It is for these combined reasons that he was the winner of the inaugural Penguin Prize for African writing in the non-fiction category in 2010 and proceeded to be awarded the prestigious Canada Bureau of International Education Leadership Award in 2017.
Pius was never the Ivory Tower scholar, if there is one. He was as avid in engaging the political landscape, particularly that of his beloved Nigeria. A robust contributor and columnist for Sahara Reporters, he was as scathing of his country’s leadership weaknesses as he was generous in seeking to offer solutions. He was deliberate in his engagement on the policy arena in his scholarship. A key contributor to the African Union’s Vision 2063, Pius also took it upon himself to teach about this vision in the classroom. It is telling that his last journey into the continent was to attend a meeting of the AU-ECOSSOCC, among other engagements. Thus, this scholar, activist, and son of Africa, was to die in the service of a new vision of Africa. The plane crash may have interrupted it, but the work of Prof. Pius Adesanmi shall endure through his many writings, and crucially, through the expansive network of scholarship and activism that he ignited while he was with us. Travel well, Pius. Long may you live on.