This is effectively my last blog for SAYAS. I am so grateful for the opportunity to reflect and share my thoughts with a wider audience. When I thought about what I wanted my last piece to be, the title ‘a seat at the table’ popped up not only because it is the title of my current favourite album by Solange, but it also sums up the reason why I pursued a doctorate: I wanted a seat at the table.
I have quickly learned that this degree is not enough and I must stay open to doing something completely different.
As an African scholar, it is very evident that there is precious little space for our voices in mainstream academic scholarship – even when Africa is the subject. Celia Nyamweru found that part of the challenge is that African-based scholars have additional time and resource pressures, that their European and North American colleagues do not necessarily face. Moreover, publication selection processes in international journals are opaque, and African scholars often struggle to access the international networks that give their Western counterparts a boost.
I hope that as universities grapple with the fact that it can’t be business as usual (thanks to #feesmustfall as well #decolonisethecurriculum), they would also think very carefully about how to equip emerging scholars to be internationally competitive and add value to society. I wonder how many talented scholars have been left out because they don’t have appropriate access to professional networks or simple mentorship.
I’ve seen that for young African academics, one of the biggest challenges is to get your foot in the door. Year after year, there are roughly the same voices; with space for only one or two new people. Projects and funding arrangements are often agreed to in conversation in corridors, by people who have long grown comfortable with one another. This means: that as an emerging scholar, you either have to have a promoter or you have to find a way to get noticed.
In the final few months of 2016, I was privileged to attend the Fourth Post-Graduate Academy at the Tshwane University of Technology, hosted by Professor Mammo Muchie, as well as the Fifth Post-Graduate Academy (now called the Afrikana Post-Graduate Academy), jointly hosted by Professor Muchie and Professor Chris Landsberg. The purpose of the academy is to up-skill post-graduate students, and emerging scholars, from a variety of disciplines. It also provides an alternate path to professional network building.
As great as the ideas driving academy are, it is not enough, and it does not abdicate individual, as well as institutional responsibility for ensuring that the ivory towers are inclusive, and produce candidates of a high standard. None of us can leave the hard work to someone else, or to some other institution. Each academic, each student, needs to hustle – becoming the change you want to see.