An increased focus on African and African diaspora studies has led to a need for new approaches to research on this scholarly field. The Global Africa conference hosted by the Africa Institute Sharjah made this the core focus during the three-day event.
Africa is a continent characterized by its many diversities and rich histories of its people that continue to define it to date. Amazingly, while the earliest civilization can be traced to the continent, not much is said about the significant influences of the continent. This is not only from the global perspective, but the modern-day African does not have the depth of knowledge about his or her people over the ages. Africa’s interaction with the globe has further made it a challenge to accurately tell the story of the people as it has often been overshadowed in most narratives. Even today, the term third world is one that is associated with the continent as it continues to battle economic challenges and shaky democracies. Still, this does not erase the fact that Africa is a hub of knowledge and the birthplace of countless ideas that changed the cause of humanity.
Over time, there was an initiative to fill the gap that existed when it comes to telling and recording the stories of Africa and its people through the introduction of African studies. The purpose of this scholarly field was for dedicated researchers to methodologically and professionally dig, interrogate, and ascertain facts about Africa. This was a significant breakthrough not only for scholars but Africans, and the entire world as these studies have a global connection. While the intent of African studies was more comprehensive, for long, there were concerns that it was hinged on the early writings by the Arabs and colonialists. As such, despite a title that clearly showed the scholarly channel of focus, African studies was dominated by non-African concepts. African scholars were quick to notice this, and over time, there was rebellion and a turnaround to their approaches for African studies.
These rebellions and a strive to have a more open and flexible way to place African and its people into the world map resulted in significant attention to this scholarly field. Most importantly, these truly African-based research and works sought to decolonize the space and give back the continent power to tell their stories. It is well-known that knowledge has considerable power, and a people whose real history is marked with lots of misrepresentations are, in essence, exploited. African studies must, in turn, be decolonized from white scholars and be free to take its unique course guided by creative thinkers. While, to an extent, there has been significant progress, the 21st century still calls for an in-depth evaluation of how different African studies disciplines approach their works. This is because, for long, the stories of the African people have been said by others resulting in a never-ending war of what was said and by whom.
The Africa Institute in Sharjah took its role as a dedicated institution for African and African diaspora studies to host the Global Africa conference. Its theme was ‘Africa and African diaspora studies in the 21st century.” The institute thereby created a platform where modern-day scholars could engage in the transformations and shifts from their different interdisciplinary perspectives. This conference was a call for papers by scholars who have appraised their fields, taking into account the past, present, and future interactions. A particular interest was in the new frontiers that have emerged over the past two decades, thereby redefining the scholarly focus. Since African Studies have researchers focused on different aspects, there are lots of frontiers that were up for discussion at the conference.
Talks about African studies can never be complete without taking into account African Diasporas and how they are an essential component of the continent. This is despite the fact that this global community is spread in different areas, and lots of them are yet to make their voices heard. It is essential to note that African Diaspora scholars have, in the past, played and continue to take on critical roles in capturing the African story. The hands-on experiences and a desire to re-connect to Africa have pushed many of the scholars to take on previously unchartered waters.
Over the centuries, Africa has had lots of interactions with the globe, especially with the Arab Gulf region considering the geographical proximity. The conference was also marked with lots of new perspectives to the Afro-Arab relations and dilemma. Finally, a review of African studies in the 21st century can never be complete without looking at the current state of the continent. This is because African studies are comprehensive and have deep interests in the present and future as in the past.
If there is one aspect that has dominated talks of African and African Diaspora studies is need to rethink transformations in this field. The Global Africa conference tackled this in March 2019 in Sharjah, UAE.