The Council for the Development of Research in social sciences in Africa, the Codesria, just closed its 14th General Assembly. Its executive secretary, Ebrima Sall, reports on the work of his think tank. Interview by Junior Ouattara, special correspondent in Dakar
What can be learned from the General Assembly of Codesria?
Our General Assembly was a beautiful meeting: it was a space for dialogue, reflection and exchanges between researchers and African intellectuals on the problems of the continent. We raised a lot of questions and the diagnosis was made on the major challenges that the continent faces today. We have also determined that the search should take a closer look so also contribute to this effort to lift Africa’s crises and project it into a better future. We talked about the Africa we want, not the one contained in the 2063 agenda of the African Union, but Africa transformed, better governed and open to all. It is not an “ideal society” or “a great future” which is definitely in reach. Africa is to build, and we are like a bicycle: we never stop pedaling! We require a continuous effort of improvement, which means we must look inside our own societies, touch the right places, and mobilize the energies and African resources.
Why adopt a new research agenda?
Certainly, we can consider that what I have just expressed is not entirely new. Still, things have been said differently. What is certain is that we are not euphoric; that is why we question all these plans. In particular, we analyzed the agenda 2063 African Union very critically, in order to understand the scope and the consequences of its application.What will be better practiced, is organizing the research around several themes; we will produce knowledge to deepen what we already know is a shifting reality. From this point of view, the new agenda is a new look! We need to know how the forces were remobilized, how to reorganize to achieve better balances, better processes that lead us out of all the problems. We will give arguments to deal with the challenges with great chances of success. We are challenged from all sides, including those with a biased conception of knowledge. Finally, we look at the history that helps to better live the present and prepare for the future.
Should it be compulsory for the formulated ideas to be taken into account?
No, it cannot be meaningful, because the Codesria is not an organization of activists or political party. What the Codesria has always been and will continue to do is precisely to question the projects and different social forces, political and social movements; and from this question, the Codesria will assess the risk of what is being conducted. It can observe whether there is, inter alia, a greater marginalization, greater inequality between sectors of the company or a greater exploitation. We interrogate and evaluate what is happening. If we want the results of our research taken into account they should not be imposed on the policy makers. We need have a process of mutual exchange.
Should African researchers engage with the political sphere?
Without a doubt! A more offensive way of spreading Codesria’s analysis would weigh much more about political choices. If some social forces, policy makers and Social movements were familiar with our work, they would make fewer mistakes in the management of policies. Let’s be clear: Codesria is a heavyweight boxer who fights with smaller size of opponents! Of course, the researcher’s role is not to substitute policies. It has no legitimacy in the face of personalities elected or who those who have reached positions of power by processes recognised legitimate. Especially since many researchers do not have a life of researchers! They engage in social or political actions. The difficulty at this level is that the distinction often is not clear …
What does research mean to Codesria?
The research is the DNA of Codesria. Programs organize and support research on all topics and we publish publications. The starting point is the defining the research agenda. Then we make programs, research activities. Then, the latter are distributed by ordinary channels (publications, magazines, books). Thereafter, we make an effort of translation and extension in order to reach the largest number of Africans. Finally, our seminars, symposia bring together the makers, actors in the private and the public, other academics, to share the results.
How do we get to the Africa of tomorrow?
For now there are many ideal standards of Africa! Each of us carries a form African ideal in his head. It is in the dialogue we manage to determine contours. Today we witnessing a competition around enterprise, international and African finance, the Heads of State, and social movements.
It is possible to connect these projects, it should be much more thoroughly researched, with dialogues, inter-reactions at several levels, to better pool and achieve projects that will crystallize in sub-regional groupings. The plurality is important and must be preserved.
Our research also means ensuring that a policy is not conducted at the expense of a social group. We issue the same reflections in relation to mining activities, culture, etc.
This is long-term research on several themes that will allow us to get to building the Africa of the present and the future. The Africa of tomorrow is Africa’s to build, but its elements are already in life today!