• Roundtable

Roundtable 2: Towards a Sustainable Model of Asian Studies in Africa: Conditions and Guidelines, and the Role of the A-ASIA


Thursday, 24 September 2015 to Saturday, 26 September 2015


University of Ghana


University of Ghana
Legon Boundary

The Asian-Studies-in-Africa initiative is dedicated to learning about Asia on intellectual and practical levels alike. Based on the recommendations of the first roundtable, we will explore the concrete conditions for institutional and programmatic models for a trans-regional collaborative approach capable of developing an intellectually independent voice on Asian studies in Africa, in short, an African alternative to Western models of “area studies.” In doing so, participants should also facilitate discussions on parallel institutional and programmatic needs of disentanglement among Asian scholars of Africa. 

In answer to the question, “to whom is this initiative addressed?”, the provisional answer in Lusaka in 2012 was as follows: Asian Studies in Africa should benefit both the current generation of scholars and the training of future generations of scholars through short-and long-term initiatives that encourage professional and general curiosity about Asia. It was proposed that Asian studies begin at the undergraduate level, where few students have adequate geographical conceptions of Asia, or of Asia in Africa, as well as at the levels of the general public and policy engagement. The lack of accurate information about Asia in Africa – and about Africa in Asia - requires continuing intellectual intervention and public communication.

Critical issues associated with institution building inside or outside existing institutions of higher learning as well as funding resources in African countries and externally (in particular, from Asia) must be given serious attention. Individual initiatives in Asian studies in African countries should be better connected with each other so as to frame a transnational approach to the strengths and weaknesses and strategic areas of intervention. Moreover, African scholars of Asia must communicate the importance of understanding Asia to their domestic media and societies, in part to encourage governments to move beyond a reactive modus operandi that diminishes the autonomy of regional and local interests. 

Another key topic is the kind of programmatic and curricular models that might best serve African scholars of Asia in their universities and wider societies. How can the development of innovative curricular initiatives be envisaged and coordinated among African institutions and scholars? What would be the optimal alignment of collaboration with their Asian and global partners in the study of Asia and Africa? 

How can the Association of Asian Studies in Africa (A-ASIA) help to meet these intellectual and institutional challenges?

Questions to be addressed by the Roundtables

 We plan to suggest a series of questions for invited participants to address in their preliminary notes to be sent prior to the Accra conference.

I - Conceptual questions

  1. What does doing Asian studies in Africa mean? How do we define Asian studies in Africa?
  2. What are the issues and challenges that Asian studies are facing in Africa?
  3. What does Asian studies mean for global humanities in Africa?
  4. Are the difficulties faced by African scholars on Asia similar to those experienced by Asian scholars on Africa?
  5. How do we situate this debate within the larger arena of area studies and global humanities?

II. Practical Questions

  1. What is the current state of Asian studies in Africa? Current programs, gaps and needs.
  2. What are the structural and programmatic challenges for Asian studies in African institutions?
  3. To what extent Asian studies in Africa remain marginalized in institutions of higher learning (and in governmental/inter-governmental higher education policies)?
  4. What is the nature and focus of current research being undertaken on Asia in Africa? The role of transnational linkages, diasporas, etc.

III - Suggested Areas of Intervention

  1. Program development and enhancement (secondary school, university, institutes, think tanks) e.g., Language study programs, joint degree programs, scholarly exchanges
  2. Joint curriculum development (foundational courses, e.g., Intro to Asian studies for African students, Intro to methodologies, etc.
  3. Regional resource centers (basic knowledge, books, digital resources)
  4. Digital linkages and networking (website, etc.)
  5. Conferences
  6. Publications (open source journals, conference proceedings)
  7. Place and role of A-ASIA: what should be its mandate, structure and realm of intervention?

Format of the Accra Roundtables

The roundtable setting is intended to facilitate and inspire open discussions between participants.  Two to three short interventions of 5 minutes each will start things off. Discussions will be moderated. No formal papers will be read. The focus is debate and discussion among the panellists and with the audience. The roundtables will occupy half a day each, divided into two sessions of two hours each.

Invited Roundtable participants will be asked to submit a concept note of 1-2 pages ready for circulation by 1 September 2015 at the latest. To be submitted to Titia van der Maas at t.van.der.maas@iias.nl. The concept note should address the main themes, drawing on the author’s scholarship and practice.


Annex: information regarding existing African initiatives in Asian Studies (Lusaka Workshop, 2012)

Current situation

In East Africa, the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, has already developed an Asian studies programme with much success. In West Africa, in Nigeria, there are two main universities that have specific programs on Asia: the University of Lagos and the University of Abuja. In Ghana, a program in Mandarin has been developed at the University of Ghana as a part of the Department of Modern Languages. The Legon Centre of International Affairs and Diplomacy has been running a Japanese language course as part of its MA program. There is also a cluster of centres for the study of the Chinese language. Many new books on Asia in Africa have been published by West African scholars.

In East Africa, examples come from Nairobi, where Confucius Institutes have led the creation of whole programmes and departments. At the University of Nairobi, the success of the Confucius Institute has led to the creation of the Chinese Department. This Department now provides a B.A. and is developing an M.A. and Ph.D. program.  It also offers a mutually beneficial  situation for the Chinese teachers involved who do their own research on Africa while teaching Chinese.

In Zimbabwe, the University of Zimbabwe is making an effort in Asian studies, but there is commitment without coordination. Similar to Nairobi, there is a Confucius Institute offering a B.A. in Chinese language, which also sends graduate students to do Master’s programs in China. There is also a Masters in International Relations that covers Asian-African studies.

The longest standing programs of Asian studies in Africa are in South Africa. There are language studies centers there that date back at least to the mid-1990s, as well as many other initiatives over the past two decades. 

In the beginning there was a shared understanding to study the Asian region within a broad geo-political framework. The two main universities involved in this initiative were Wits University and Stellenbosch University. At Wits, the focus has been on China. At Stellenbosch, studies began in the Political Science Department and the Asian Studies Desk. They too focused on China through the work of scholars such as Ian Taylor and Martin Davies, and then Japan with the work of Scarlett Cornelissen.

There are many lessons to be learned from the South African example. First is how these programs gained support. The protagonists of the development of Asian studies in South Africa began with small-scale support, moving to a large scale as they used networks to gain access to an international audience. Institutionally speaking, they had receptive university administrations.  Since 2000, Stellenbosch has even offered a B.A. in Mandarin. The corporate funding for this degree program is evidence of a receptive community within South Africa. 

Despite these valuable insights into the current state of the field, we need to carry out a systematic survey of existing capacity for the study of Asia in Africa. This is a crucial first step in developing and promoting Asian Studies in Africa.