The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), ranked among the three premier research institutes in Africa, and based in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, held its 14th General Assembly, from June 8-13. Participants and invited guests came from all corners of the globe- united by an overarching interest in research/scholarship on African affairs. This General Assembly’s theme, decidedly Afrocentric, and for good reasons, was appropriately titled, “Creating African Futures in an Era of Global Transformations: Challenges and Prospects.”
Another objective of the General Assembly, perhaps the more important one, was to elect a new Executive Committee: a new president, vice president and other important officials who work closely with the Secretariat that oversees the day-to-day operations, (that include research, publications, grant-writing, global-outreach, etc.) of CODESRIA.
Dr. Ebrima Sall, a Sene-gambian as well as a Pan-Africanist, has served as Executive Secretary of CODESRIA since 2009. A scholar in his own right, Sall has also distinguished himself as an able and widely respected administrator and diplomat- fusing as he has done for the last six years regional, language, ideological, scholarly and other divisions within this continent-wide institute. In all the deliberations, Dr. Sall, President Fatima Harrak and vice-president, Dzodzi Tsikata, exhibited poise, clarity of vision, and resolve, when needed, to steer the General Assembly to a resounding success.
They are quick to give credit to others- but deserve much of it- having navigated CODESRIA over rough waters for the last three years. CODESRIA’s staff deserve much praise for their professionalism and the manner in which the Assembly, and the elections, in particular, were conducted- no rigged elections here under the watchful eye of Mr. Diouf, who meticulously presided over the process. Without a hitch, the 14th GA was executed to everyone’s satisfaction with a heavy dose of Teranga (hospitality) Senegalaise.
While the primary goal of the GA was administrative- it was its intellectual plank that glued together and gave thematic coherence to the participants and event for five days in this truly royal, King Fahd Palace Hotel- overlooking the Atlantic and facing the beautiful island of N’Gorr. Topics of discussion and debate ranged from democratization, China-Africa relations, gender and presentations and prognosis on Africa’s Futures studies.
Therefore, the General Assembly/ Conference was truly a “Who Is Who” in the global African/Africanisit community. It include among many others the world-renowned political-economist, Samir Amin a onetime Executive Secretary of CODESRIA, Mahmood Mamdani, Peter Anyang ‘Nyong’o, Fatima, Harrak and Fatou Sow- just to name a few.
The discussions were rich and deep- set by papers delivered on the first day by Senegal’s Prime Minister, and a keynote delivered by Carlos Lopes, Executive Director, Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and later, Alioune Sall’s “Futures” keynote address- the latter sparking much debate and controversy in all languages. Attendees spoke in various languages that included, French, Portuguese and English with brilliant translators to bridge the language-divide between participants, many of whom were multi-lingual. Media personnel who videotaped the proceedings were just as strategic, as they recorded the important events.
Yet, it was not all work and no play. The Thursday evening Gala with its enticing four-course dinner (the lunches and breakfasts were also grand) was followed by a private concert by Senegal’s superstar, Baaba Maal and his band. Baaba on the opening day of the Assembly gave a solo-performance which he outdid on Thursday with a mix of “Wango” Fulani and “Mbalax” Wolof beats. It was an explosive combination, and scholars, who hours earlier were engaged in deep scholarly exchanges, hit the dance floor with abandon.
It was a hectic week already and Thursday’s Gala was a welcome release in preparation for Friday’s election of the Executive Committee, which was preceded by regional primary nominations from which the president and key officials would be selected by the General Assembly. The elections went smoothly. Vice-president Tsikata, a gender activist and legal scholar who heads a rights/justice institute at the University of Ghana, was deservedly elected, president.
Dr. Sall closed out the five-day proceedings by thanking the attendees for their important work and before long was greeted with a standing ovation and deafening applause. In the end, there wasn’t a dry-eye in this magnificent hall. They were tears of joy and appreciation of Sall, his staff, as well as the outgoing Executive Committee for organizing such a flawless General Assembly. It was also tears mixed with sweet-sadness as the friendships and acquaintances so quickly formed would have to part ways, perhaps, until the next General Assembly.
Ultimately, the 14 CODESRIA General Assembly was a resounding success. It deepened family bonds and friendships, (intellectual ties) that CODESRIA truly embodies. The love, admiration and respect exhibited at the General Assembly/Conference was uncommon, perhaps unprecedented.
This is because, here was a gathering of Africa’s best scholars, thinkers and activists- all deliberating on Africa’s past, current and future. Africa and its diverse peoples were their primary concerns- not as a site or byproduct of some diabolical imperial scheme but at center stage. African agency informed the proceedings to support policy-making. Without illusion and certainly with much debate and candor Africans tasked themselves with shaping their future(s) and that of the continent.
It was also clear that CODESRIA (and its staff) has its work cut-out well into the future. With expectations so high, as to appear unreasonable at times. Participants look to the institution to spearhead knowledge production and reproduction, establish new frontiers of research/advocacy and committees to address and possibly forestall impending challenges, and engage in policy research to shape the “Africa, we all want.” Daunting! Not so daunting perhaps to an impressive cadre of young scholars, both male and female, who made their presence known at the Assembly. And, who are well-equipped to take on the tasks of moving CODESRIA’s agenda forward and help chart Africa’s future.
By Saturday morning, June 14, the crowds that occupied the hotel lobby (next to the reception counters) in animated intellectual discourses, began to thin and with it the buzz. By Sunday afternoon, most attendees had left beautiful Dakar to return home but with parts of their heart(s) behind.
The next General Assembly is in three years and Dr. Ebrima Sall has a little under two years to complete his term, as Executive-Secretary. He too, may likely follow in the footsteps of former distinguished heads of CODESRIA, to head an institution of higher learning and/ or enjoy a highly visible professorship at an elite university.
Abdoulaye Saine, Professor
University Distinguished Scholar
Department of Political Science
Oxford, OH 45056