My last note to the CODESRIA Community was in June 2020. Since then, the uncertainty brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic has continued almost unabated. Its implications locally and globally have been immense, affecting even the very experts whose task it is to understand and advice on disease. The world of science has stumbled from one idea to the other in an attempt to come to grip with the virus. This stumbling has been the case even though, at its very essence, this is a virus that could be controlled by basic social control measures such as social distancing, washing hands and wearing face masks. These are not just basic methods of slowing or deterring the spread of the virus, they also are social in their essence, demanding that medical practitioners appreciate the value of, and embrace, social and political prerequisites to managing the pandemic.
That this pandemic has required a socio-political and economic understanding of disease did not come as a surprise to CODESRIA. The Council had for some time run an annual convening of the Institute of Health, Politics and Society in Africa that was suspended in 2011 due to resource constraints. In light of the current circumstances, the Council feels that it is imperative that social science research responds to our present realities. The Council’s priority has been to find ways of revitalizing interest in the history and social dimensions of illness which would help locate the current pandemic and its ramifications in their political economy contexts. This, it aims to do without reproducing the faddish gene that has dominated reactions to the pandemic by many organisations. Fads are like fashions and fashions matter most when they are trending. Beyond that, they are often easily forgotten and discarded.
It is the Council’s opinion that while the Coronavirus pandemic needs immediate and concentrated attention, its impact will be intense over the long term. The intensity sits, among other things, on how an overwhelming focus on the virus has allowed policy makers to overlook other health challenges whose effects on society persist and have had longer and damaging effects. These effects are expected to continue alongside the Coronavirus and, most certainly, after the virus is under control. In July, CODESRIA’s attempt to raise resources to support research and policy engagement that takes this broad and longer-term perspective failed. But our commitment to lead in the production of knowledge that appreciates the political and economic dimensions of disease remains undeterred.
The Council emphasizes the pandemic in this final update for 2020 partly because our programming, like those of other organizations, was affected due to restrictions relating to the pandemic. Though the Council implemented most of its 2020 Workplan, all activities requiring movement of participants and involving large meetings were held in abeyance. In a few cases, we did not implement an activity when some funding partners requested that we hold off from disbursing funds. Instead, the Secretariat sought to upscale its use of technology for delivery on some programmes and to grow its presence online to new levels. The Council is happy with progress made in this direction and hopes to continue on the same path in 2021.
The promise to work on the publications backlog and to improve on timely publication of our research outputs achieved enormous success. The Council has revitalized several publications and sought to complete all backlog for our journals. In 2020, the Council issued six, instead of the usual four, issues of CODESRIA Bulletin and created The CODESRIA Bulletin Online as a complement of the regular one. Further, the backlog for Africa Development , Identity Culture and Politics: Afro-Asian Dialogues and Journal for Higher Education in Africa are almost complete. The hope is that we can maintain the speed and meet these targets. Perhaps even more urgent is to ensure the CODESRIA community engages these publications more. The Council is particularly keen to receive more submissions in
French and Portuguese and, once again, we take this opportunity to solicit for such submissions.
The commitment to enhance resource mobilization and expand the financial base of the Council achieved positive results with the renewed support of the Open Society Foundation. This has complemented previous support from the Ford Foundation that was secured in 2019 but implemented in 2020. Further, working in partnership with the Arab Council for the Social Sciences, the Council is at an advanced stage of discussion with SIDA to initiate a four years project on the Sahel. The focus on the Sahel is key given that the region is generally under-represented in CODESRIA programmes. The publication of a special issue of CODESRIA Bulletin, Nos 5&6, 2020 edited by Amy Niang on the situation in Mali signals the onset of this initiative.
Finally, the current Strategic Planning Cycle will end in 2021. The Secretariat will commence the strategic planning process for 2022-2026 in January 2021 with the hope that a new strategic plan will be in place by January 2022. The Secretariat intends this to be a consultative process led by the Executive Committee, with the support of the Scientific Committee and an expanded team drawn from our membership. Details regarding this process will be shared in due course but the aim is to launch the new Plan at the 16th General Assembly.
On behalf of the CODESRIA Executive Committee, the Secretariat and on my own behalf, please accept our gratitude for your engagement during the year and for the support you have extended to CODESRIA in your individual or other capacities. We look forward to further interactions in 2021 and take this opportunity to wish you abundant blessings during the holidays and a fitting and joyous transition to the New Year. Happy Holidays and prosperous 2021.
Dr. Godwin R. Murunga
Executive Secretary, CODESRIA
22nd December 2020