UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
9th Conference of Africanists "Africa in the Context of NorthSouth Relations" (Moscow, 21-23 May 2002)
The 9th conference of Africanists on "Africa in the Context of NorthSouth Relations" was convened in Moscow from 21-23 May 2002 at the premises of the Institute for African Studies (IAS) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). This scientific forum was organised jointly by the RAS Academic Council for the Problems of Africa and the Institute for African Studies and attracted over 150 participants from Russia and 30 scholars from foreign countries. Apart from professional africanists based in Moscow academic and university centres, the conference also was attended by representatives of the research centres of Chelyabinsk, St.-Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Kazan and Saratov. The conference hosted researchers from Angola, Benin, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Swaziland and South Africa, as well as from England, France, Germany, India, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Ukraine, USA and Uzbekistan.
The keynote addresses were by Director of the Institute for African Studies, RAS Corresponding Member Professor Alexei VASSILIEV (on "Africa and Challenges of the 21st Century") and by Executive Director of the Africa Institute of South Africa, Dr. Eddy MALOKA ("Towards the African Renaissance: the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)").
The Conference plenary session, as well as the presentations of the Russian and foreign researchers at the sections' discussions were focused on the problems of the nascent African union, NEPAD, the concept of "African Renaissance," and the role of the international community as a substantial component in supporting African recovery. Alexei VASSILIEV emphasized that the concept of NEPAD agrees with the emerging Russian strategy of addressing 21st century challenges and building a multipolar model of international relations. Perceiving the current African situation as a tragic one (poverty, the debt problem, armed conflicts and wars, corruption and the AIDS pandemic), he believes that elements of optimism nevertheless are present, citing a list of necessary conditions that should be observed to make African development programs productive. Eddy MALOKA noted in his address that the African Union and NEPAD, by raising the importance of mapping out the new ways to unity and revival, would prompt the awareness that the African renaissance would require of the continent's leaders, among other things, the political will and mobilization of African civil society.
The work of the conference was carried out in ten sections: "International Relations, Russian-African Cooperation", "African Economy Under Globalisation", "Problems of Political Modernisation and Evolution of Political Structures", "History", "Northern Africa and the Horn of Africa: Regional Aspects of Globalisation", "Southern Africa", "Gender Problems of the Transition Society", "Global World Order and Cultural-Civilisational Uniqueness", "Literature Studies", "Linguistics". Within the framework of the conference there also were several round tables.
The confererence delegates were not unanimous about assessment of the NEPAD program. P.-A. BISCHOFF (South Africa), Inna CHERKASSOVA (IAS) defined it as a realistic program of ensuring the acceleration of African economic development and as a way to cooperation with the advanced countries. Another point of view was voiced by etteh A. KOFI (a Ghanaian by origin, currently Professor of the University of San Francisco, USA). He argues that NEPAD will hardly be productive as it does not solve the basic African problems and reflects the interests of only some large continent's countries eager to take a lead of the process of African revival. He offers an alternative people-centered strategy based on the agrarian pattern of African societies.
Problems of national and continental security coupled with conflict preventions and resolutions were among widely discussed issues at the conference. Professors Aparajita BISWAS and Vanraj S. SHETH (both of India) and other researchers pointed out that with the end of the Cold War and new challenges facing the continent and exacerbation of world instability, the problem of African security had been aggravated. In the circumstances, African sub-regional organizations and institutions ought to take a more active part in conflict resolution. It also is important that African participation should be more prominent in political leadership of UN-sponsored organisations on conflict management. Some African researchers, like Nontobeko HLELA (South Africa), argued that the recent situation on the continent had become particularly grave, degenerating from conflicts to humanitarian crises accompanied by mass migration, refugee flows and famine.
Russian and foreign researchers paid special attention to the problem of African integration processes, specifically to the issues facing the conversion of the OAU to the African Union. Professor George OBIOZOR (Nigeria) and Chamba L. PETKOU (South Africa) optimistically estimated the prospects of African countries that had embarked on the way of integration. The scholars pointed out that integration indeed is the main way of solving the basic political and economic problems of African countries. At the same time, it was noted that the mere objective of real integration is still far away. It was remarked that the processes of differentiation between African states and social differentiation within them constitute serious hurdles in the way of integration.
Civil society coming-to-be in Africa was another topic of animated discussion. The past decade, since the beginning of democratization in Africa, has brought more problems than tangible results. Political changes in African countries do not always result in positive outcomes, and democratic changes, especially in the making of civil society, are a rather remote prospect for Africa. Thereupon, the expansion of political studies was considered a must for students of Africa.
Various opinions were presented at the conference on the place of Africa in the context of the development of modern world civilization. Alexander NEKLESSA (IAS) viewed this context as a transition to "post-modern civilization". For Africa, the "North-South" model promises, most likely, a new turn and new forms of conflict, obtrusion of international force control, and increasing restrictions of national development. Professor Igor SLEDZEVSKI (IAS), asserted that the development of civilization is determined by two fundamental aspects (or trends) of the world order in the New epoch: On the one hand, by the persistent diversity of traditional civilizations, each of which gravitates towards certain cultural regions, and on the other, by the development of so-called world-culture as a special cultural-historical type, which strives for unlimited expansion in time and space and directly addresses mankind. This World-culture is simultaneously a specific result of neo-European civilization and a more general type of a modern inter-civilization interaction, which includes both centralization, unification, globalization of the world cultural space and isolation of its basic parts (North-South) or their complementarity (East-West). Africa is an integral and, at the same time, a specific part of the World-culture, which is not confined completely either to the East-West, or the North-South, system of relations.
Meanwhile, the participants of the "Literature Studies" Section noted that the majority of African literary intellectuals, being like all Africans part and parcel of the world community, do not share the idea of irreconcilable opposition of African countries to the so-called countries of the North.
Vladimir VIGAND (IAS) opined that Africa as a whole still is between the East and the West and its place will be determined either by progressive Westernisation or by Orientalisation, which hinders its development.
The conference delegates paid special attention to the phenomenon of the rapid expansion of Islam in Tropical Africa, giving various assessments to this process.
For the first time at a conference of africanists in Russia a round table on "Information society and Africa" was organized. The participants shared the opinion that African states had to undertake parallel actions to include themselves in cyberspace not only as data consumers, but also as generators of ideas. Only thus will it be possible to set up mutually advantageous electronic businesses, to significantly raise the level of education and to ensure adequate cultural development of the African continent. Otherwise it will be a question of a new form of dependence and some kind of ìinformation neocolonialismî, when Internet technologies will only serve to aggravate the peripheral status of the region.
Within the ambit of the conference there were also the following round tables: "Trends and prospects of the Russian entrepreneurship in the countries of Africa", "African and Russian economy under conditions of a global economic recession", "Social-political problems of Nigeria in conditions of transition to civil government", "Indian Ocean Rim: prospects of cooperationî and "Inter-marriages: inter-civilisation communication experiences".
Concurrently with the work of the 9th Conference of africanists, a meeting of Russian africanists was held on May 22. Professor Alexei Vassiliev delivered a Progress Report on past activity in the field of assembling Russian students of Africa working in RAS institutes and establishments of higher learning, as well as Russian diplomats, journalists and entrepreneurs connected one way or another with Africa. The meeting participants approved of the idea to renew the work of the Association of Russian Africanists with the aim to integrate scholars and specialists dealing with African problems. Professor Apollon DAVIDSON, Director of the Centre of African History at the RAS Institute of General History, suggested adopting as the main field of the Associationís activity the study of traditions and trends in Russian africanistics, as well as the evolution of racial problems in past and present years both in Africa and the African Diaspora worldwide, including Russia. The participants of the meeting selected an Organizing Committee led by RAS Corresponding Member Vassili SOLODOVNIKOV to prepare a Constituent Conference of the future association, which is scheduled for October-November 2002.
The participation at the conference of a number of young researches contributed substantially to its fruitful work. Their uninhibited thinking, their aspiration to work in a new fashion (without subverting that of their scientific predecessors!), their ability to use practically inexhaustible information resources, all made a positive impact on the regular forum of africanists.
Summarizing the work of the conference, Professor Alexei VASSILIEV highlighted the fact that the discussions passed in a spirit of mutual understanding and proved constructive and useful. The 9th conference was an appreciable stride in deepening African studies in our country and contributed to further development of Russian-African cooperation.
The presence of numerous researchers from foreign centres of science corroborated once again the international standing of the Conference of Africanists conducted by the RAS Academic Council for the Problems of Africa and the RAS Institute for African Studies.
----- Date: 7 Sep 2002 From: Lyubov Prokopenko <email@example.com>
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