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Archie Mafeje Memorial Lecture

28 March 2017
09:00 - 00:00

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Lessons from Mafeje’s Theories and Positionality of Africans on Science and Innovation

Professor Archie Monwabisi Mafeje is a respected African intellectual who critically engaged the position of Africans in the global space as knowledge producers.  The legacy of colonization included controlling knowledge about Africa and its persons, control of natural resources, as well as political and economic power structures. This skewed production of knowledge on Africa, amongst other, led to Mafeje’s interest in African political and intellectual self-determination, emancipation, and self-understanding. The former executive director of CODESRIA, Adebayo Olukoshi, regarded Mafeje as the quintessential scientist. His first degree was a BSc in Biology, which he obtained from University of Cape Town (UCT), and then he moved on to study Anthropology. Anthropology to Mafeje was a calling; having discovered that through negation of African people’s knowledge, and self-understanding, Africa suffers from domination and gross misrepresentation.   

In an attempt to reflect on Archie Mafeje the Pan-Africanist, Activist and Cosmopolitan, this year’s Annual Archie Mafeje Memorial lecture seeks to think about and engage his teachings beyond his ideological and philosophical orientation, with an attempt to imagine where Africa and Africans should be insofar as innovation ecology is concerned. Mafeje posited that Africanity was the basis of the ontological reality of African people, as people cannot exist outside their historicity, which necessarily informs their lived experience.

In his imagination and yearning for a progressive African democratic revolution and renaissance, Mafeje asserted that there was a need to establish African institutions in order for Africans to create spaces wherein they can claim the success of their development. A history of making by Africans, which can be critically acclaimed to the identity and footprint of Africa’s intellectuals, which is oriented towards civilization. In his ‘Combative Ontology’, he reiterated that there is a clear distinction between Africanity and Afrocentrism; the former being a critical requirement for informing methodology for decolonising Africa’s knowledge, as opposed to the latter which is an antidote. In relation to the relentless agony over the domination of Africa by the West, Mafeje was of the view that societies do not look to other societies for solutions to their problems, they study their own societies on their own terms and for their own purposes or benefits.    

The aim of this lecture is to interrogate the desire and possibility of pursuing ideologies and theories about Africa’s development and to promote self-determination of Africa by Africans without foregoing the historicity that informs its present realities. Therefore, it is sacrosanct to unpack the ontological and epistemological contributions of Africa’s Science and Innovation to agitate Africa to understand self and determine the relevance of taught science for emancipation of Africans. Scholars reflect on the teachings and imaginations of Mafeje’s position of Africans in a global space i.e. internationalism. To use his analogy through Mao Tse Tung ‘if what we say and do is of relevance to humanity, its international relevance is guaranteed’. The panel will reflect and explore observations of Africa as a scientific knowledge-producing continent, with a special focus on pandemics that have affected Africa. It would seem that Africa and its role in the areas of science and innovation has accustomed itself to universalism. That is to imply that embracing mutual recognition of what the Western domination preaches, over production of organic knowledge and participation in the fields of natural sciences. Knowledge developed on the foundations of exclusivism should not be studied with fear of critique and contradiction; persistent ontological assertions of foreign domination go against revolution, renaissance and self-determination.   

The concept note is developed from a position of recognizing that the evolution of pedagogy in the fields that traditionally belong into the STEM, that is – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – has reached a significant milestone. There is a growing body of knowledge seeking to incorporate the humanities in the aforementioned fields of STEM. The emergence of pandemics in Africa exposed the lack of self-determination to make the history of fulfilling priorities.  Archie Mafeje in his essay ‘Anthropology and independent Africans: Suicide or end of an Era’ posed a question. Can there be African Anthropology without African anthropologist? It is in this philosophical discourse that the lecture wants to peruse the ideology of Africanity as a requirement for the decolonization of Sciences i.e. STEM and Innovation. 


1.To explore Africanity as a tangible decolonization pathway towards relevant STEM and Innovation for Africa’s progress; 

2.To reflect on Africa’s response towards pandemics and interpretations thereof;

3.To provide recommendations on how African institutions can participate in the science revolution through pedagogy and practice.