ASAUK Biennial Conference 2018

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - 9:00am to 7:00pm

ASAUK Biennial Conference
Date: 11 – 13 September 2018
Venue: University of Birmingham, United Kingdom 
Our sister organisation African Studies Association UK (ASAUK) will hold a biennial conference from 11-13 September 2018 at the University of Birmingham on the Edgabston campus. The ASAUK 2018 conference will celebrate the diversity and interdisciplinarity of the study of Africa. 
The University of Birmingham’s campus provides the perfect backdrop for the next ASAUK conference. The Department of African Studies and Anthropology (formerly known as the Centre of West African Studies) was  founded in 1963 by J. D. Fage, pioneer in African Studies, and has over 50 years of experience and expertise in research and teaching about the continent. It also houses the Danford collection, a priceless and unique collection of African artifacts and cultural products.
The conference hub will be the Great Hall in the Aston Webb building. With an elegant entrance space, marvelous domed ceiling and an opulent marble foyer and rotunda, this breathtaking venue will be the awe-inspiring backdrop for the conference registration and formal dinner.
The ASAUK 2016 conference at the University of Cambridge attracted over 650 delegates from different academic disciplines and parts of the world. With 202 panels, the programme was extraordinarily rich and varied and resulted in engaged collaboration across the different disciplines that encompass the study of Africa. 
The keynote speaker is Professor Grace Musila, associate professor in the English Department, Stellenbosch University and author of A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour. Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder (James Currey/Boydell & Brewer, 2015).
The conference is a key event for scholars working on and in Africa. At the conference, the ASAUK will recognise and celebrate outstanding scholarship and contributions to the study of Africa with the Audrey Richards Prize for best doctoral thesis in African Studies successfully examined in a British institution of higher education during 2016-2017. The Fage and Oliver monograph prize for best scholarly monograph on Africa published (or translated into English) and distributed in the United Kingdom. The Distinguished Africanist Award for an individual who has made exceptional contributions to the field of African studies. The ASAUK will also award several scholarships to the conference to up and coming African academics.
This conference provides a unique opportunity to connect with hundreds of Africanists, academics with a particular interest in the continent, development specialists, policy makers and others. The organisers are committed to engaging with participants through an energising and informative programme, and facilitating networking opportunities via two dynamic social events.
Find out more about RAS and ASAUK, and about joint membership of both organisations. 
The conference programme will be uploaded in due course on the ASAUK website

Prospects for 2018

Tuesday, 30 January 2018
Nicholas Westcott
So, where is Africa going in 2018? 
The Royal African Society began its year, as always, with a look at the Prospects and Forecasts for the year ahead.  The panel (hosted by the University of London's Centre for African Studies at SOAS) brought together voices from London and the continent - Nanjala Nyabola, a political analyst from Kenya, Sethembile Msezane, an artist from South Africa, Natznet Tesfay, an Eritrean economist based here in London, and the peripatetic Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential. Afua Hirsch, author of BRIT[ish], chaired.
Our (mainly youthful and mainly female) panel focussed particularly on the challenges for youth: the challenge to find space and opportunity for political, economic and cultural expression.  Patrick underlined the big political changes underway in Southern Africa. Changes of leader in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Angola may not be generational, but they are responding to popular impatience with the old leaders, and public expectations of faster change are high.  Elsewhere, an old generation of leaders are entering the autumn of their careers - in Uganda, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Mali - and others, though younger, have passed their sell-by date - in DRC or Burundi, for example.  They may linger on, but at a cost to themselves and to their countries.  
So we look to this year's bumper crop of elections to help accelerate the process of democratic change in Zimbabwe, Cameroon, DRC, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Mali.  In Egypt it looks like nothing will change; in South Sudan we sincerely hope it does, for the sake of the millions displaced or suffering from the seemingly intractable conflict.  Though the political trends are hard to predict, in several countries, without change there is a growing risk of conflict.
This is reflected in the economic prospects.  Politically stable countries with sensible economic policies look set to grow at over 6%, but those mired in conflict drag the average  for the African continent down to 3.4%.  There is a growing public debt burden which will be increasingly expensive to service and which threatens the funding available for private sector investment, which everybody wants to attract.  Investors are looking, but will be picky.  So while there is cause for optimism, more investment is needed to help create the conditions for growth, especially in soft infrastructure such as education and training.  But they also need to be free to go into business.  But there were different views on encouraging entrepreneurship: some see it as the essential variable to stimulate faster growth and create more jobs.  Others see it as a diversion from the political struggle and a Western recipe wrong for African markets.  But I am not sure what the alternative is?
Culturally, the vibrancy in southern Africa we see in South Africa and Zimbabwe is echoed in both East and West Africa.  But growing numbers of young artists want it to serve a purpose, to highlight the reality of power distortions and the lack of freedom in order to change it.  Art will always have an impact: the question is what impact the artist is seeking.
The view was expressed that if young people cannot find a way to force change in their societies, they will simply leave, they will migrate. So if "the West" wants to reduce migration, help the forces of change, not the forces of "stability".  In practice, though, it is often Western donors who are making the argument for change, and African governments that are saying 'leave us alone and leave it to us...'
We will see how this pans out in the course of 2018.  The RAS, at least, will provide plenty more opportunities to debate the issue - in the margins of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, at African Writes and Film Africa, at the ASAUK conference in Birmingham in September, and at a range of smaller, more specific meetings on our agenda. 
We look forward to welcoming you all again as the year goes on.
Nick Westcott

Fully Booked: Zimbabwe after the Mugabe era

Monday, 19 February 2018 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

Date & Time: Monday 19 February 2018, 17:15 - 19:00
Venue: DLT, SOAS, University of London Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square London WC1H 0XG


A panel discussion with leading experts to address the current political situation in Zimbabwe after the removal of Robert Mugabe.
Contributions by:
Professor Kenneth Mufuka (Lander University, US) - ‘Life and Times of Robert Mugabe: Dream Betrayed’
Dr Julia Gallagher (Royal Holloway, University of London): 'The idea of Zimbabwe without Mugabe'
Dr Miles Tendi (Oxford University): 'Human rights & the legacies of violence after Robert Mugabe'
Ms Mandipa Ndlovu (SOAS Mo Ibrahim scholar from Zimbabwe): ‘Operation Restore Legacy’
Chair: Professor Stephen Chan (SOAS)
This event is organised in collaboration with the Centre of African Studies, University of London. 
Watch the stream on Facebook Live.
Photo credit : Aristocrats-hat, CC license

Africa in 2018: Prospects & Forecasts

Monday, 22 January 2018 - 6:30pm to Tuesday, 23 January 2018 - 8:00pm

Africa in 2018: Prospects & Forecasts

London: Monday 22 January 2018, SOAS. Catch up: audio / video

Edinburgh: Tuesday 23 January 2018, University of Edinburgh. Catch up: video

2017 saw some moments of huge significance in Africa. In The Gambia, Zimbabwe and Angola, leaders whose combined years in office amounted to nearly a century finally left power. In Kenya and Liberia, the courts demonstrated remarkable judicial independence around elections. And in countries from Togo to Cameroon to Eritrea – to name a few – citizens demanded change as governments discovered new ways to refuse it and maintain control.

2018 is likely to contain similar pivotal moments. Elections – which have become all the more unpredictable in Africa recently – are due to be held in Sierra Leone, Mali, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and DR Congo. Economically, growth on the continent is expected to reach 3.5% and plans to boost intra-African trade should continue, but progress could be undermined by instability, environmental shocks and fluctuating commodity prices. Conflicts in the CAR, South Sudan and the Sahel stretch on.

Meanwhile, Africa’s young population continues to assert itself not just politically and economically, but culturally. The unpacking and redressing of historical and contemporary violence continues, across film, art, literature and music, where there is an increasing drive amongst the continent’s youth to see their own lives and experiences reflected. This creative energy is, in turn, impacting global culture, where Africans and diasporans are mapping out the kind of continent they envisage for the future.  

Join us for the Royal African Society’s flagship events in London and Edinburgh, delivered in partnership with the British Council, to discuss and debate what 2018 holds in store for the continent.

London: Monday 22 January, 18:30 – 20:00, Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, SOAS.
Followed by a networking reception. 
Presented in partnership with the Centre of African Studies, University of London
Register - £6 / £10 / Free for RAS members


Sethembile Msezane (artist, South Africa)
Nanjala Nyabola (writer and independent political analyst, Kenya)
Patrick Smith (Chief Editor, The Africa Report & Editor, Africa Confidential)
Natznet Tesfay (Director, Africa Analysis, IHS Markit)
Chair: Afua Hirsch (writer, broadcaster & barrister)

Edinburgh: Tuesday 23 January, 18:30 – 20:00, The Meadows Lecture Theatre (G.07), University of Edinburgh.
Followed by a networking reception. 
Presented in partnership with Edinburgh Global and the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh


Sethembile Msezane (artist, South Africa)
Nanjala Nyabola (writer and independent political analyst, Kenya)
Hazel Gray (Centre of African Studies)
Ritah Namwiza (International Development, Mastercard Foundation Scholar)

Chair: Zoe Marks (Centre of African Studies)


Image: Sethembile Msezane, Chapungu, The Day Rhodes Fell (2015)












Celebrating Buchi Emecheta

Saturday, 3 February 2018 - 9:30am to 8:00pm

Celebrating Buchi Emecheta
Date & Time: 09:30-20:00, Saturday 3 February 2018
Venue: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre & Suite, SOAS, Thornhaugh St, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

An all-day celebration of the life and work of the acclaimed Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta, who passed away in January 2017.

As a novelist and story teller Buchi Emecheta touched the lives of many people, and continues to inspire a new generation through the example she set as an immigrant, single mother of five children who rose to became an international literary figure.
This anniversary event will be a celebration Buchi Emecheta's life and work as well as an opportunity to hold a public conversation about her legacy.
The event will include a curated installation of The Life and Times of Buchi Emecheta, panel discussions, dramatisations of excerpts from two of her best know novels, music and dancing and of course Nigerian food. Also expect a colourful cultural tribute from members of the Ibusa community in London... 
The official launch of the Buchi Emecheta Foundation and Omenala Press' exciting new edition of Buchi Emecheta's books will take place on the same day. The full programme will be available in January 2018 on
Presented by The Buchi Emecheta Foundation and Omenala Press, in partnership with the Royal African Society, Africa Writes, Centre of African Studies, University of London, Igbo Conference, City University & Afrikult. Supported by Arts Council England.
Tickets: £15 / £7 available to buy in cash on the door.
Image: Portrait of Buchi Emecheta on the cover of The Slave Girl (1977) by Val Wilmer


A Fresh Start

Monday, 27 November 2017
Nicholas Westcott

I arrived at the Royal African Society on 1 November from seven years working on Africa and the Middle East in Brussels. It is invigorating to make a fresh start working with the continent I know better than any except my own, and the RAS is the place to do it.

My first few weeks in the job have already illustrated the strength and breadth of the RAS’s work. Film Africa was in full swing during my first week, with some remarkable productions from the continent that really deserve the wider audience they get here in the UK. The Society was also in the thick of preparing the visit of the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo to London on 21 November to present his vision for an “Africa beyond Aid” to the world. At the same time, with the latest developments in the long-running saga of Zimbabwe and the future of its President, the African Arguments website has provided a platform for lively debate on what the recent moves mean and what is likely to happen next. In addition, in Parliament, the African All-Party Parliamentary Group conducted hearings in the prospects for trade with Africa after Brexit, with the usual support from the RAS.

It was a particular honour to host President Akufo-Addo, an old friend from my years in Ghana when he was successively Foreign Minister, Presidential candidate and leader of the opposition NPP. He brought a stirring message that Africa needed to seek its own economic and political salvation, and that Ghana was ready to lead the way in that respect – a message strongly supported by the panel of private sector representatives, including Fuse ODG, the award-winning Anglo-Ghanaian Afro-beats artist. Nana Akufo-Addo’s own story is an object lesson in the benefits of perseverance and genuine democracy in an African context, not just for him, but for the whole of Ghana. Live-streamed through Facebook from the V&A Lecture Theatre, it also illustrated the valuable platform the RAS can provide and wide audience that it can reach.

It was altogether a typical month for the Society. The agenda is forward-looking, economic, political and cultural, and informed by the depth of knowledge and expertise that the RAS can bring to bear on all these subjects. It is in joining up the dots and demonstrating the inter-connectedness, that we can help people understand British-African links better.

There is still much more to do. An immediate challenge that the RAS is facing is to find more reliable ways to finance this activity. I have been very impressed by how much is done by so few in the Society’s offices here in Gordon Square. While extremely efficient, if we are to reach out to a wider audience in business, in the diaspora and in the regions beyond London, to do the many things that we and our members would like to do, we need to adequately resource the effort.  We will be working hard on that in the months ahead.

Encouraging people to join the RAS is a good start. We are a membership organisation and the more members we have, the more we can do for them.

I therefore intend to make a priority in the next few months of meeting as many of the Society’s members as possible, individual and corporate, to hear what more you would like us to do. I also want to contact our many sister organisations and collaborative partners to see what more we can do in common with them to achieve our goals. And I will work with the team here to encapsulate those goals as clearly as possible to ensure we have a strong and purposeful sense of direction.

So all contributions will be welcome to this process of reflection. Do not hesitate to get in touch with us through this google form:

All in all, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…” as someone once said.

'Africa Beyond Aid' - President Nana Akufo-Addo's vision for the continent

Tuesday, 21 November 2017 - 1:00pm to 2:30pm

'Africa Beyond Aid' - President Nana Akufo-Addo's vision for the continent
Date & Time: 13:00-14:30, Tuesday 21 November 2017
Venue: Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL

As part of international events marking Ghana’s 60th independence anniversary, President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo will address an audience at a public event on Tuesday 21 November hosted by the Royal African Society at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

After 60 years of political independence, Ghana is positioning itself as a beacon of stability and economic success in the region. President Akufo-Addo has announced a bold mission to build ‘a Ghana beyond aid’, with the aim to inspire ‘an Africa beyond aid’. The President will give a keynote speech on his country’s move to industrialisation and investment. He will also shed light on the prospects and challenges of this transition for the African continent as a whole.

This message of this mission comes at a key point as the UK redesigns its post-Brexit trade and investment policies. The President and guest speakers will highlight some new areas of opportunity and specific policy initiatives to facilitate investment and trade flows.

A panel of guest speakers will then respond to the President’s remarks and highlight the importance of mobilising the skills of Africans in the diaspora. For many years, remittances, skills and technology transfers have had an impact on African countries that far exceeds foreign aid. The event will be a platform for dialogue on business opportunities, partnerships, and mobilising the diaspora across several sectors.

Presented by the Royal African Society and supported by WorldRemit and DeCharles.


Tickets: £15 Royal African Society Members / £30 Non-members / £15 Non-members (concession). Book on Eventbrite.

Please note that due to the nature of this event, late-comers will not be admitted. 


Facebook Livestream 


Message from the new Director to all members and friends of the Royal African Society

Monday, 13 November 2017
Nicholas Westcott
I am honoured and delighted to take up the role of Director of the Royal African Society.  For over a hundred years it has played a crucial role in promoting a better understanding of, and improved relations between, Africa and the United Kingdom. 
Britain and Africa are an integral part of each other's history, and a growing part of each other's present.  Hundreds of thousands of people of African origin live in Britain.  Business and trade between us continue to grow, and global challenges such as climate change and terrorism affect both of us deeply.  In a world of ever closer connections it is more important than ever to understand each other - our history, our interests, our identity and our cultures - and allow open discussion and debate over our collective future and how we interact.
The Royal African Society provides an unparalleled network and platform through which we can have this discussion, promote understanding, identify those mutual interests, and encourage action.
Ever since I first visited Africa in 1976 (then as a back-packing, hitch-hiking student), I have been learning about the continent and connecting with its people.  After seven years living in East and West Africa and as many more dealing with Africa in Brussels and London, leading the RAS is a tremendous opportunity to put those connections to work for the mutual benefit of Britain and Africa.  
I look forward to working with all of you to that end, and meeting you as soon as the opportunity arises.
- Nick Westcott

Mobilising Through Messaging: Democracy and the Digital Space in Kenya

Monday, 23 October 2017 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm



Mobilising Through Messaging: Democracy and the Digital Space in Kenya
ASAUK 2017 Mary Kingsley Zochonis Lecture delivered by Dr Duncan Mainye Omanga, Moi University, Kenya

Date & Time: 19:00, Monday 23 October 2017

Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre,  SOAS, University of London

Listen to podcast

The growth and penetration of the internet in Africa, coupled with the popularity and ubiquity of the mobile phone have positioned social media platforms as the new spaces through which Africans organize and imagine both political discourse and action.

This lecture highlights the role of WhatsApp groups in Kenya’s Nakuru County in convening citizens for political deliberation and civic action in County government affairs. In the context of political and economic devolution in Kenya following the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010, this lecture shows how social media plays a critical role in localizing both formal and informal political discourse and action.

The presentation narrows focus to (possibly) one of the most organized WhatsApp groups in Kenya, ‘the Nakuru Analysts’. The analysts, as they are popularly known, have used the affordances of WhatsApp such as the ability to carry text, picture and video at very low costs, and the possibility of the platform to convene groups for ‘talk’, to emerge as one of the most notable spaces for deliberation, agitation and for mobilizing for social, legislative and political action in the city of Nakuru.

Specifically, I historicize how The Nakuru analysts came into being, highlighting the specific contingencies that made it possible for ‘The analysts’ to become what they are today. Furthermore, the lecture offers an empirical insight into how WhatsApp groups are organized and the many ways through which they articulate their agenda.

In doing so, I will show why the Nakuru Analysts have emerged as the most effective ‘check’ of the County government and why they have succeeded in ‘modulating’ Nakuru County politics. The lecture will also reveal the various digital roles taken by the ‘administrators’ and selected participants of these platforms, and how these positions shape grassroots politics in Nakuru. More important, I will highlight the real and perceived achievements of the analysts, thereby giving insights into how members draw from this critical digital space to set the local political agendas.

Duncan Omanga is currently the Head, Department of Publishing and Media Studies, Moi University (Kenya). He is an alumnus of the Bayreuth International Graduate School of Graduate Studies (BIGSAS) at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany. Dr. Omanga is also a 2014 APN (Africa Peace Network-SSRC) alumni and was the 2015/6 African Visiting Fellow (Centre for African Studies) at the University of Cambridge. Dr. Omanga is the nominee for the 2017 Mary Kingsley Zochonis Lecture (ASAUK).The lecture is based on his current research on ‘Social Media and public Participation in Kenya.’ He is a columnist with The Standard, a Kenyan daily.

This event is free and open to all. Please register on Eventbrite.

Satire and Politics in Africa: The 2017 Kenya elections and other stories

Tuesday, 10 October 2017 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm

Date & Time: Tuesday 10 October 2017, 19:00 – 20:30

Venue: Frontline Club, 13 Norfolk Place, London, W2 1QJ

Godfrey Mwampembwa, a.k.a Gado is a renowned political cartoonist. He joins us to politics and the role of satire in Africa, with a particular focus on speaking truth to power and the build up to, rejection of, and subsequent re-running of the Kenyan presidential elections of 2017.

Speaker Bios

Godfrey Mwampembwa, a.k.a Gado is a renowned political cartoonist. Originally from Tanzania, Gado has lived and worked as an editorial cartoonist in Kenya for many years, and currently works for The East African Standard in Nairobi. His cartoons have also been published in Daily Nation (Kenya), Le Monde and Courrier International (France), Deutsche Welle (Germany), and The Guardian (UK) among others. He is the Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Buni Media, an independent multi-media company based in Nairobi, where he produces the weekly satirical puppet show, The XYZ SHOW. Gado is a recipient of many awards including the Kenya National Human Rights Commission Award in Journalism in 2005 and 2007 and the prestigious Cartoon for Peace 2016 International Editorial Cartoon award. In 2011 Gado was among 12 extraordinary leaders to receive a Visionaries Award from Ford Foundation for their innovative efforts on the frontlines of key social issues. In 2014, Gado was named as one of the 100 most influential people in Africa by the New African.

Nic Cheeseman is Professor of Democracy and International Development at the University of Birmingham. In addition to numerous book chapters, he is the author of Democracy in Africa: Successes, failures and the struggle for political reform (CUP, 2015) and over twenty journal articles including "Rethinking the 'presidentialism debate': Conceptualizing coalitional politics in cross-regional perspective" (Democratization, 2014), which won the inaugural GIGA prize for the best article published in Comparative Area Studies. Professor Cheeseman is also the editor of the collections Our Turn to Eat: Politics in Kenya Since 1950 (2010), The Handbook of African Politics (2013), and African Politics: Major Works (2016), and two special issues of the Journal of Eastern African Studies on the Kenyan elections of 2007 and 2013. As well as being the former editor of the journal African Affairs, the #1 ranked journal in Area Studies, Professor Cheeseman is the founding editor of the Oxford Encyclopaedia of African Politics, the Oxford Dictionary of African Politics, and the co-editor of the Handbook of Kenyan Politics (forthcoming). These days, he spends much of his time writing about contemporary events in Africa in a bi-weekly column for Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.


Tickets are £12.50 / £10 for RAS members. Please book on the Frontline Club website.


A selection of Gado cartoons reproduced with kind permission of the artist...