Guest blog first-year student Eline Sleurink: Africa at the forefront of ‘firsts’

blog-eline-sleurink-2This guest blog was written by Eline Sleurink, MA student African Studies at Leiden University. Eline has won the blog competition for first-year students of the (Research) Master in African Studies! The assignment was to write a blog about what is ‘African’ in African Studies and what is your motivation to study African Studies. Eline’s blog was selected by the jury as the best among the sixteen papers submitted. The jury consisted of Han van Dijk (programme director), Rijk van Dijk (course instructor) and Azeb Amha (coordinator Research Master). Congratulations, Eline!

One of my favourite quotes about ‘Africa’ is – somewhat incongruously – not from an individual living in one of the 54 countries today, an African scholar or an internationally renowned policy maker or leader. It is not a quote by Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah or any other ‘famous’ historical figure that is often associated with carving the history of the continent. It is a quote of which the origins and meanings are debated, but which I believe can be transposed and made relevant again today:

“Semper aliquid novi Africa affert”
 

The author of this quote was the Roman administrator Pliny the Elder, who lived from 23-79 A.D. (Van den Heever, no date). Translated freely, this quote means:

“Africa is always producing something of novelty”

Pliny used this quote in his Naturalis Historia, a 37 volume work on the wonders of the natural world. The expression is found in his passage on the manner in which lions and leopards would interbreed in ‘Africa’ to create new hybrids of species. Pliny borrowed the quote from a common Greek saying, which itself was probably coined by the Greek sage Aristotle (c. 384-322 b.c.). Aristotle used the saying in his Historia Animalium (another volume on the natural world) stating that the wild animals of ‘Africa’ are the most ‘new’ in form (Van den Heever, no date). The phrase was henceforth borrowed, transmuted and decontextualized throughout time. Today, the phrase and its variants can be found in newspaper articles, journal headlines (Stein, 2012) and it has adorned the seal and coat of arms of the South African Museum in Cape Town since 1877 (Van den Heever, no date).

But why refer to this somewhat obscure and dubious saying? Why have I chosen it to answer the question of what I believe is ‘African’ in African Studies, as well as what my motivation is to pursue this master’s degree? Why refer to an expression coined more than 2300 years ago, whose author was not from Africa and whose knowledge of the existence of the continent was limited to areas north of the Sahara?

The original meaning, origin and connotations of the saying can most certainly be contested and debated. It is the sentiment that the phrase carries which renders it a metaphor for my views on the continent. To me, “semper aliquid novi Africa affert” can be distilled into the concept of novelty and most importantly, innovation. In my eyes, Africa is a continent of ‘firsts’; in the past, now and in the future.

Scientific consensus locates the origin of mankind in the East of Africa (Sample, 2015). Coffee finds its origin in Ethiopia, while the first objects of mathematical use (thought to be at least 35,000 years old) can be traced to neighbouring countries (Anyangwe, 2015). This is a continent which is said to have inspired the movement of modern art (Anyangwe, 2015) and it is claimed that “every musical element… is essentially African in background and derivation” (Gunther Schiller, cited in Anyangwe, 2015).

Isaac Mkalia, 20 years old, a teacher by profession is checking his mobil phone.

Isaac Mkalia, 20 years old, a teacher by profession is checking his mobile phone. Photo: AIF600 http://afritorial.com/2013-africa-innovation-prize/

While some of the above might be disputed, (much) more recent sources of innovation can not be. As of late, we have seen technological advances which perhaps surpass those of other continents. The rise of mobile money and use of applications such as M-PESA have led to a situation in which “paying for a taxi ride using your mobile phone is easier in Nairobi than it is in New York” (Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money?, 2013).On his recent trip to Nigeria, Mark Zuckerberg argued that “Africa will build the future”, encapsulating his belief in the continent’s innovative future by visiting business hubs and meeting socially conscious entrepreneurs (Shapshak, 2016).

Technology and entrepreneurial innovation aside, the continent also offers a rich array of cultural and artistic avenues to be explored, both in its history as in present day. As I write this assignment, London’s Somerset House has just finished hosting the annual 1:54 festival, showcasing contemporary African art and attracting over 10,000 visitors (About 1:54, 2016). In late 2017 the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art is set to open in Cape Town. The museum – “Africa’s largest museum in over 100 years”- will host an enormous collection from Africa and its Diaspora and may “shift the contemporary art world as we know it” (Hancock and Page, 2016).

In essence then, change is afoot in Africa. I have only managed to scratch the surface of changes that have occurred, are occurring and are set to occur in the continent. Africa is home to such a rich and complex diversity  that is so full of nuances – on all manner of subjects – that we could study what is ‘African’ ad infinitum. But of course, this notion is applicable to any continent.

I have failed to mention the many, many atrocities, civil wars and disasters which have blighted Africa’s history or are currently dominating the headlines. These events deserve just as much attention as the positives and ‘firsts’ I have listed here. But it is my belief that Africa as a continent is entering a period of momentous change, energy and above all, innovation. We can turn to Africa’s history to learn an incredible amount about the birth of humanity – both in the literal sense (see above) and in terms of the origins of our thinking and actions. Modern day debates on colonialism and slavery continue to be just as relevant today as they were 20, 50 or 100 years ago. The question of whether ‘neo-colonialism’ is occurring in light of key foreign investors has become a controversial topic (China and the new scramble for Africa, 2016). All in all, there is plenty to discuss.

What is ‘African’ in African Studies to me, then, is the concept of innovation and novelty. It is not the concept of a singular ‘African’ identity, which I think is impossible to define. My first and foremost motivation to study African Studies is my unwavering belief and optimism that the future of Africa will bring an incredible amount of opportunity.

I do not wish to dismiss the ‘problems’ the continent has and is currently facing. Nor those that it will have in the future. But I vehemently believe that endogenous, inclusive growth – particularly through innovation – can shape the future. I stand with Ashish Thakkar, Chair of the United Nations Foundation, when he says that “Africa’s time is now” (Thakkar, 2015). I believe that Africa has undoubtedly been shaped by its history, but it is its future and that which we cannot predict – the ‘unknown’ – which make it worth studying. The opportunities are endless and I believe the continent’s future will not only shape its own population, but that of the entire world.

Pliny’s reference to Africa may be more than 2300 years old, but I believe it is just as relevant now as it was then. As we can trace the origins of mankind to Ethiopia, it is my hope – and belief – that we will one day trace the origin of most of the world’s most spectacular innovations to the continent. That which we cannot predict and visualize might very well be what advances the entire being of humanity. The role of Africa in this is, in my mind, undeniable. Just as it has in the past, so semper aliquid novi Africa affert.

Bibliography:
About 1:54 (2016) Available at: http://1-54.com/london/ (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Anyangwe, E. (2015) 10 things Africa has given the world. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/08/10-things-africa-given-world (Accessed: 22 December 2016).

China and the new scramble for Africa (2016) Available at: http://southernafrican.news/2016/09/16/china-and-the-new-scramble-for-africa/ (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Hancock, C. and Page, T. (2016) Is this the new home of contemporary art? Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/31/architecture/thomas-heatherwick-zeitz-mocaa-cape-town/ (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Sample, I. (2015) Jaw bone fossil discovered in Ethiopia is oldest known human lineage remains. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/04/jaw-bone-discovery-in-ethiopia-is-oldest-ever-human-lineage-remains (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Shapshak, T. (2016) Africa will build the future says Zuckerberg, visits Kenya on First African trip. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/tobyshapshak/2016/09/01/africa-will-build-the-future-says-zuckerberg-visits-kenya-on-first-african-trip/#586dd9665214 (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Stein, D. (2012) ‘Psychiatric contributions from South Africa: Ex Africa semper Aliquid Novi’, African Journal of Psychiatry, 15(5). doi: 10.4314/ajpsy.v15i5.39.

Thakkar, A. (2015) Africa’s time is now. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ashish-thakkar/africas-time-is-now_b_8119528.html (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Van den Heever, J. (no date) Semper aliquid.. Available at: http://academic.sun.ac.za/botzoo/paleo/africa.htm (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money? (2013) Available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/05/economist-explains-18 (Accessed: 12 October 2016).

Africa in Qatar – Qatar in Africa

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Doha skyline with the Museum of Islamic Art.

A delegation of the ‘Africa in the World’ research group of the African Studies Centre in Leiden visited Qatar recently, and had discussions with people in various universities, Qatar Foundation, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, The Netherlands Embassy and a number of Qatar charities. Qatar is one of the ‘South-South hubs’ of today and an interesting one if one wants to understand the possibilities for Africans to ‘negotiate’ the new global, polycentric world.

With Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi of Qatar University, College of Arts & Sciences.

At Qatar University, with Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi (on the right) of the College of Arts & Sciences.

More Africans than Qataris in Qatar
Qatar is full of surprises. The population living there consists of 2.3 million people, but only 12% of them are having a Qatari passport. There are more Indians and more Nepali in Qatar than there are Qataris. What’s more: there are more Africans in Qatar than there are Qataris (the majority of the Africans being Egyptians and Sudanese, but there are also many people from Ethiopia, Tunisia, Eritrea, Morocco and Kenya). We were told that it is virtually impossible for foreigners to get a Qatari passport, unless you are a sportsman, as Qatar would like to impress the world with ‘its’ sports accomplishments. The atmosphere in capital city Doha is very cosmopolitan, with an explosion of colourful architectural highlights forming the skyline. In the ‘old’ market one can see niqabs alongside Western dresses for women, and suits and hoodies next to the white robes and white-and-red head dresses for men. One gets the impression of ‘everything goes’ and an open, tolerant and very safe public space. At the same time, Qatar wants to be a major player in the Islamic world (and partly in competition with other Gulf states) and is known to support various Islamic groups, including some Islamist groups. The Taliban has an office in Doha. There is major support for Hamas. And there are connections with groups that pledge allegiance to the ideas of Islamic State.

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Emblem of the Sheikh Eid Bin Mohammad Al-Thani Charitable Association.

Development assistance
The State of Qatar started its own Department of International Aid in 2007 and spent more than 1.7 billion (US) dollars on ‘development assistance’ in 2013 alone, of which one third was given to Africa. Total aid money would be 740 dollar per person living in Qatar, or, if we only count people with a Qatari passport: more than 6,000 dollar per person. In addition, most non-Qataris send a lot of remittances back home, and Qatari charities are known all over Africa (and elsewhere) for their generosity. One can see the donation boxes of the various charities in central places in Doha.

Al Jazeera
Why would a small country on a peninsula in the Gulf do this? We were told that the former Qatari Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the ruling family realised how vulnerable their family business had become after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Saudi Arabia could do the same with them; a reason to do so could always be found. So Qatar needed friends elsewhere, and it needed trumpets to tell the world: here we are! Some people told us that that was the main reason why (in 1996) the Emir decided to fund the Al Jazeera news network, which put Qatar on the world map of journalism. Others told us that it is much more complicated than that. Later, the Qatari elite decided to attract lots of foreign researchers (the Qatar Foundation is rich!); to fund numerous sports and cultural highlights; and to build a city full of special features. They can pay for it. In 2013, Qatar exported for 137 billion dollars’ worth of products (mainly gas and chemical products) and it only imported for 27 billion dollars. That truly means a huge balance of payment surplus. Japan, Korea and India are its major customers; the USA and China the major providers of goods and services. Although Qatar used to be a British colony, Europe’s role in imports and exports has become quite limited. At the same time, trade with Africa is very small (although growing): only about 1%. In 2013, Qatar’s major African trade partners were South Africa and Kenya for its exports, and Egypt and (again) South Africa as providers of some of its imports.

Visiting the Netherlands' Ambassador to Qatar, Mrs Yvette Burghgraef - van Eechoud (second from left).

Visiting the Netherlands’ Ambassador to Qatar, Mrs Yvette Burghgraef-van Eechoud (second from left).

Peace broker
Trade and aid are clearly not much connected (yet?) and one can see Qatar’s aid policy as one of its methods of ‘impression geopolitics’, and ways to export its cultural-political ideas. And that is full of controversies and surprises. In 2011, Qatar supported almost all Arab Spring uprisings. And currently, Qatar’s foreign policy is full of attempts to be a major peace broker in Africa and the Middle East: the ‘Norway’ of the Middle East. With Qatari aid money surpassing Qatari trade money (imports and exports) in most of Africa’s countries, Qatar’s embassies in Africa and Africa’s many embassies in Qatar, we see a form of aid diplomacy that must be familiar to Dutch diplomats who dealt with Africa in the 1980s and 1990s and who did not have to promote Dutch businesses too much in those years, with the exception of diplomats in African oil countries like Nigeria. It was trade or aid; not trade and aid. And it was about exporting an ideology. Like Qatar nowadays; although the ideology is different of course. Africans nowadays can make choices. And they do so ever more…

Achieving inclusive development in Africa

Photo Karin NijenhuisThe Dutch-African Knowledge Platform on Development Policies held a seminar on ‘Achieving Inclusive Development in Africa: Policies, Processes and Political Settlements’ on 13 and 14 May in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). It was organized with the UK’s Overseas Development Institute and the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa, which is based in Addis Ababa. It was called a ‘Policy Research Seminar’ and was held at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, with input from the African Union too. The Knowledge Platform on Development Policies (KPDP) is one of the five knowledge platforms initiated and funded by the International Cooperation section of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and it has brought together twelve African representatives from relevant think tanks and twelve people from the Netherlands: diplomats, academics, the private sector and civil-society representatives. The African Studies Centre in Leiden is coordinating its Secretariat (since April 2014, with Marleen Dekker in charge) in collaboration with the International Institute of Social Studies (of Erasmus University in Rotterdam), The Broker and the African Economic Research Consortium. The KPDP has been in existence for two years now and this was its fourth meeting. Its business meeting took place on 15 May and preceding it was this special seminar on Inclusive Development to which another sixty people had been invited, many from policy circles in Africa.

Panel discussion, with Ton on the left (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Panel discussion, with Ton on the left (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Long-term support for rural development
The seminar gave the ODI’s David Booth and his ‘Developmental Regimes in Africa’ (DRA) team a chance to challenge African policymakers and academics on basic ideas about Africa’s development strategies, with lessons learnt from the South-East Asian experience. The DRA is a joint venture between the ODI and the African Studies Centre and a follow-up to the Tracking Development (TD) research programme. TD researchers David Henley, Ahmad Helmy Fuady, Yinka Akinyoade, Blandina Kilama and myself were all present to add our thoughts. We felt a bit as though we were in the firing line because not only representatives from the AU and UNECA but also African members of the Platform and other invited guests from Africa (and a few from the Netherlands too) had some trouble accepting the basic message from Tracking Development: in addition to macroeconomic stability and freedom for small-scale farmers and non-farm entrepreneurs to decide what they produce, who they buy from and who they sell to, there is one more basic ingredient for economic success: genuine, long-term support for small farmers and for rural development as a whole, based on substantial government support for agricultural productivity increases and rural infrastructure. This will have an impact and reduce poverty among the rural masses if it is done in an incremental way, i.e. ‘learning by doing’ and not by following some grand blueprint design.

The South-East Asian experience
There were lots of disconnects between what African thinkers presented on ‘economic transformation’ and ‘developmental regimes’, on ‘employment creation’ and ‘social protection’ (the four main topics of the two-day seminar) and the basic message distilled from the South-East Asian experiences. The controversy seems to be something that has kept African policymakers busy since Independence, namely how to leapfrog to being a modern industrial nation without putting a lot of emphasis on agriculture and rural development, or milking the rural masses to feed the modern urban elites and their industrial dreams.

Apartment building in Addis - under construction (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Apartment building in Addis – under construction (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Policies full of beautiful words
Four African thinkers had the chance to summarize their reflections after the two days of seminars: Sarah Ssewanyana from the Economic Policy Research Centre in Kampala (and a member of the KPDP), Yaw Ansu from the African Center for Economic Transformation in Accra (who is also a member of the KPDP), Fantu Cheru (who works at the African Studies Centre in Leiden) and Blandina Kilama (currently working at REPOA in Dar es Salaam but who was part of the TD team and did a comparative study of Tanzania and Vietnam). Let me reflect on their reflections.
Sarah started by saying that she really felt a disconnect between the discussions on the four topics and between the various stakeholders present in the debates. She highlighted the importance of stakeholder mapping and bringing them together (indeed, that is one of the big things the KPDP has decided to do) and also the relevance of putting far more emphasis on studying policy implementation, as many African policymakers seem to enjoy writing policy statements full of beautiful words and talking about them, but do not seem to be bothered by the fact that very few of these policies are ever implemented and, if they are, it is in ways that are often far from any originally declared intentions. So, assuming that these policies are basically correct, she suggested that capacity issues, incentive structures, pilot up-scaling and evaluation capabilities are the issues that should be addressed first. And she wondered what the best ways were for policy analysts to deal with policymakers and how they could strengthen their abilities in understanding political economy and find a way to combine the language and approaches of hard-core economists and political scientists.

Lack of necessary data
Yaw thought that the most crucial problem was a lack of necessary data. According to him the emphasis had been on data about macro-economic aspects, like inflation and GDP data, in World-Bank assisted attempts during the 1980s and 1990s, followed by MDG-derived attempts to get data about education, health care and poverty during the 2000s. This emphasis resulted in a lack of attention for structural data about the African economies, about employment and labour statistics, about the composition of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, and particularly about government budgets and actual expenditure.  He felt that governments and other institutions responsible for prioritization and monitoring broke down during the implementation of the so-called Washington Consensus and that it is now high time for Africa to regain ownership of data collection and budget prioritization. Earlier, he had shown that whatever data are available indicates that Africa’s economy, despite high growth figures, is not yet showing any signs of structural transformation and the current growth figures might be illusive in terms of sustainable growth.

Addis Ababa (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Addis Ababa (photo Karin Nijenhuis).

Transformational leadership
Fantu Cheru started by saying that Africa was in a crucial phase; a ‘historical moment’, with the old ideologically inspired ‘boxes’ breaking down and that it is searching for new analytical narratives, new policies and new institutions in many places across the continent. According to him, a transformational change is needed but one that is based on the simultaneous involvement of the private sector, civil society and the state, and not just a ‘better’ or more effective state is needed. What is most important is transformational leadership and the institutions nurturing such new leadership. This should go beyond ‘sectors’. The 1980s saw the destruction of these institutions of leadership: African universities and research institutes were thwarted and marginalized, and the hoped-for private sector did not adequately step in. Knowledge production for policymaking was basically killed and became dependent on foreign agencies like the Bretton Woods institutions and Western donor agencies. He continued by saying that a social contract is needed for transformation and one that is politically viable, socially rooted and with a shared and integral vision of the future. This demands a learning culture and a lot of experimentation (Asian style), and not the umpteenth declaration of desires. Transformational change is a political project, not some technocratic declaration. And, like politics in general, it is full of contradictions. The most fundamental question is the way transformational politics addresses the issue of inequality and how, through political decision making and adequate policy implementation, growth translates into redistribution and real poverty alleviation, particularly of the rural masses. So basically, it is about the merging of economic growth politics and social policy discourses.

All conference members in Addis.

All conference members in Addis.

Africa’s reality
Blandina added that the sustainability of the transformation agenda depends on internal checks and balances and the level of tolerance created in and around the political arena in Africa. It will become important how African states implement the post-2015 agenda and how they streamline their initiatives in a pan-African project, which will also result in more regional integration. She pleaded for a much more creative use of data and evidence, connecting the micro and the macro level approaches and triangulating the different datasets to come up with shared narratives of inclusive development successes. She noted that, at the level of the African Union and in many African states, aspirations have been formulated that show Africa’s wish to act, to push African politicians into actions and to make them go beyond paying lip service alone to all the nice new visions formulated over the last few years. She agreed with Fantu that we need better knowledge development to capture the political process connected to implementing these visions. On the other hand, many African leaders accepted the Maputo Declaration of a few years ago in which they agreed to spend at least 10% of government budgets on agricultural transformation. And what is actually happening is still far removed from that (meagre) goal. There is no integrated policy to connect this agricultural policy with rural infrastructure development, to connect government spending with private-sector initiatives, to improve value chains of agricultural and mineral products and to develop adequate clusters of innovation connecting the state, the private sector and civil society, as was so clearly formulated by Fantu. And there is a lot of confusion about the ‘manufacturing’ and ‘service sector’ part of economic transformation: the sector approach seems to disconnect from Africa’s reality of multi-sector activities by individuals, families and enterprises. It does not see small farmers as genuine entrepreneurs. It does not link easily to their demands and desires. And hence it continues to look at the mass of poor rural people with a paternalistic, urban-modern gaze that does not take them seriously enough. It is interesting to study what states that declare themselves to be ‘developmental states’ (Rwanda, Ethiopia) are doing to integrate these rural farmers/multi-sector entrepreneurs in their efforts to transform economies in ways that genuinely create possibilities for the poorest 40% in society to improve their lives. And the same is also true for the people at the bottom of the pyramid in the urban informal sector.

China-Netherlands-Africa: trilateral collaboration?

groepsfotoThe Lakeview Hotel in Beijing is beautiful. Owned by the ‘number one university of China’, as many members of staff from Peking University start to say when they shake hands with me, its grandeur and beauty shows China’s self-confidence. Smog levels take away some of the sight of the Lake (students use their apps to check the levels: ‘O, it is only 184; no mouth piece needed’; in Paris there was panic when it was close to 150 in mid-March). Two things that are very much related: high growth and high pollution.

Africanist colleagues
I was in Beijing last week with a delegation from Leiden’s African Studies Centre to attend an international workshop organised together with Peking University’s Center for African Studies. ASC researchers Benjamin Soares, Mayke Kaag and visiting fellow Romain Dittgen participated, together with invitees from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague (Meine Pieter van Dijk and Ward Warmerdam), the University of Amsterdam (Sarah Hardus) and our African partner CODESRIA in Senegal (Carlos Cardoso). The Chinese main organiser Liu Haifang had invited many of her Africanist colleagues in China and a considerable number of African guests, including journalists from Africa who happened to be in Beijing for a training. The conference was called ‘International Development Cooperation: Exploring Sino-Dutch Complementarity in African Studies and Policies’.

Ton‘Our friend’
The conference came at a very appropriate time. The recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Netherlands had made the headlines in China and had created an atmosphere that can be summarised by: ‘Europe is important for us, but the Netherlands is now our friend’. Many Chinese observers had noted with surprise that President Xi had been invited with more ‘honour’ than President Obama. So now our Chinese hosts were very willing to explore possibilities for trilateral collaboration with us in the Netherlands with regard to Africa, even if some of the speakers noted that the Netherlands could hardly be noticed on a world map. The conference dealt with four major topics: a comparison of African Studies in China and the Netherlands, a comparison of experiences with aid, trade and investment relationships with Africa, experiences with and ideas about peacekeeping, and observations about capacity development. Let me highlight some conclusions about ‘African Studies’.

Independent attitude
China has an interesting history of African Studies; it would be useful to write that history in English and compare it with the history of African Studies elsewhere, for instance in Leiden. There are no differences of opinion about what African Studies should be: African Studies as area studies is broad, multi-disciplinary, and connects insights from fields of study as diverse as sociology, cultural studies, economic and business studies, political science, legal studies, geography and agricultural studies. Some participants noted that some centres of African Studies now put a lot of emphasis on economics. But African Studies should not be reduced to purposes related to immediate economic diplomacy or immediate policy relevance. It has much more to offer and should maintain its independence from policy and business circles. If it engages with policy and business circles it should do so with a critical, independent attitude.

BenGlobal exchange
Area studies like African Studies (should) play a role in teaching new generations of scholars. Examples like the courses taught in Beijing and in Leiden show the importance of a broad curriculum. It was suggested that we exchange curriculum experiences. We could even develop online exchange mechanisms, also involving African partner institutes and African Studies centres from other countries in Europe (AEGIS) and elsewhere. We could work towards the development of e.g. chat rooms where African, Chinese and European students and staff can communicate and talk about their research. Or we could develop summer schools in Africa, where Chinese, European and African PhD students could meet for intensive seminars or follow master classes given by prominent Africanists from the three regions.

Joint research
There are many possibilities for joint tripartite research activities, including applications for funding, fieldwork, publications, outreach activities and even evaluation of aid/trade/investment impact. A more formal commitment for collaboration between Peking University and Leiden University might be useful. This could go beyond African Studies proper and for instance also support the establishment of Asian Studies and European Studies in Africa as trilateral ventures. In Leiden the newly formed Leiden Global could be a useful tool for that.

Changing the image of Africa
Many participants noted that African Studies centres should play a role in changing the image about Africa in journalism and in school teaching: away from the image of a ‘sick continent’. It would be good to compare the various experiences in Beijing and in Leiden: the use of public media, art forms (plays), websites and social media. African Studies centres can also play a role in connecting to the African diaspora around them: on campus and beyond. The same is true for the maintenance of contacts with alumni originating from Africa.

Yan-LihuaYan Lihua
At the end of the conference Yan Lihua, the ‘Grand old lady’ of African Studies in China who had been listening carefully to what went on, asked me to greet a few of our researchers back home that had visited Beijing fifteen years before. She had later been in Leiden as a visiting scholar for a month. She hoped that this time all the ideas for collaboration would materialise better than they had done a decade ago, she told me. I think she will not be disappointed. The time is ripe now.