This has got to be the weirdest time for students about to start their degrees. Following the corona-related shutting down of all schools, and the suspension of entrance exams, potential university undergraduates are probably feeling like they have been cast adrift on a sea of uncertainty. The guiding hand which represents the world they have known since they started formal education at the age of four, abruptly yanked away. Almost every year, I get asked for recommendations of books for aspiring law students. The stakes are so high this year. Therefore, when I received a similar request this year, I decided to crowd-source my response on Twitter, and received an overwhelming response.
I have often said that fear is humanity’s greatest vulnerability.
And in this moment, in this time, we live in great fear.
We are afraid that we will never have enough,
We are afraid that we will never be safe enough,
We are afraid that the air will not be kind to us,
We are afraid that the earth we walk upon will soon cover us,
As at time of writing, the global death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 10,000. Many countries around the world are in some form of lockdown. Patterns of work and life are changing, maybe forever. As death tolls rise from country to country, people who have never lived in close proximity to death before are being forced to stare death in the face. Those who have always known death’s name have felt its cold visage draw closer. For some of us who live between those two worlds, known terrors have come calling once more. As the numbers rise, we know that there are names behind each figure, entire lives that exist no more, we know once again the pain of the left behind, as we deal in death once more.
My mind is numb. Pictures, videos, emails, messages and tweets from around the world. Fear, panic, dread, loss and uncertainty. And a thousand letters from ‘caring’ company CEOs telling me how they will carry on through this unprecedented disaster. Every day, every hour, updates from around the world. From every continent, every region, every country, every province. We are counting the dead. We are counting the dead. How does one write through a global disaster? Should one write through catastrophe?
In 2018, I gave a presentation at The International Student Conference for Africa (TISCA) at the University of Leicester. The focus of the presentation was broadly on the legal implications of fundamental constitutional change on the continent of Africa – not constitutional change in individual nation-states, but a wide-ranging reinterpretation of what the continent looks like, how it operates… essentially what the meaning of Africa has been, is and could possibly be. One of the things I touched on in my presentation was the concept of ‘tribe’ in Africa. My contention was, and is, that the sociological space the word ‘tribe’ occupies is problematic in its historical origin and contemporary use. Therefore, it remains an inherently flawed unit and tool of analysis of African realities (or indeed any reality in which ‘tribe’ is deployed as a unit of intellectual examination).
On the 13th of September 2019, I convened a conference at the University of Bristol titled, ‘Decolonising the Law School.’ (The conference was sponsored by the Society of Legal Scholars as well as the Law School at the University of Bristol.) The purpose of the conference was to contribute to a process of accurate practice and theorisation of decolonisation which forces us to confront the history and effects of imperialism upon our academic practices (i.e. research and teaching) in law. This, I think is vital, because in a lot of the contemporary discourse on epistemic decolonisation, there is a focus only on decolonial practice and teaching, to the detriment of decolonial theory and research. Without decolonising research, I believe that we decolonise our teaching in vain.
I have written elsewhere, and much more extensively about my driving thoughts behind convening the conference. This is a process which for me continues to continue. Watch this space. In the meantime, below is the text and video of my welcome address at the conference. A programme of the event also follows.
Since I wrote the essay ‘Finding My Africa, Finding Myself,‘ I have continued to reflect on the elusive concept of home, especially in this global moment, where children of Africa continue to be caught up in violences of non-belonging through neocolonisation, racism and environmental injustices, among other things. And African states capitalise on this non-belonging through an inadequate conceptualisation and bringing to fruition of possible return. In my earlier essay, I explained how I can remember my first real experience of an African country because I returned to Nigeria from the UK when I was young. But I have no memories of being in Nigeria before then. I only have memories of return. I also talked about the racism that formed part of the reasons why my parents decided to return to Nigeria. But this return home comes with its own burdens, burdens not exactly divorced from the reasons for return. And so for children of Africa, I think, the search for belonging feels eternal, as historical un-mattering results in present and future separation from the earth. This separation may be a slow process, it may be quick, but for children of Africa, home is always a dangerous spirit, yet home is still this restless soul.
2019 has been, globally, a year of ups and downs, trials and triumphs – a year of troubled skies. A number of key elections happened across the world and particularly on the continent of Africa. World politics continues to march onwards on the road to perdition in the UK, USA, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, Germany, Spain etc. And every area of life, sports, entertainment, education, finance, trade, the environment…demonstrates quite clearly that the personal is always political and the political, personal. If we do not get better at understanding how our yesterdays have brought us to today, our world will have no tomorrow. We, humanity, will have no more skies above us, no land on which to stand, as the waters rise up and cover us all.
This post is a reflection on my ‘decolonial’ work in 2019. I think of myself and my work as always having been decolonial, though I was initially focused mainly on what decolonial theory meant for African law and politics. As decolonisation became more ‘trendy’, especially within UK Higher Education, me and my work have been increasingly drawn into the scope of conversations on ‘decolonising the curriculum/university’. I continue to be concerned about how superficial these conversations sometimes are in UK HE and how much they are being co-opted by managerial diversity and inclusion initiatives within the neoliberal university. In UK HE (and elsewhere), the uncritical ‘decolonising’ of everything that requires change has become rampant. e.g. ‘decolonising assessment’, ‘decolonisng teaching space’, or as I saw somewhere recently (I suppose a bit less seriously) ‘decolonising academic gowns.’ There seems to me a profound lack of understanding, firstly, of what decolonisation entails. This despite the challenges faced in other jurisdictions that have gone far ahead of UK HE in decolonisation e.g. Canada and South Africa. Secondly, and maybe more importantly for this context, there is such a deep-seated unwillingness within UK education sector to engage with what [de]colonisation means. This is important in the context of a country that was an empire and in many ways continues to be so. [Parts of this essay were included in a talk given at the SRHE annual conference in December 2019].
I have always been fascinated by museums. Even in Nigeria, where the existence of museums sometimes feels elitist, acultural and ‘foreign’, I would wander for hours, lost in thought, around any museum I could find. During my days at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, I would often drag my friends along to the Natural History Museum. From the moment I heard that such a thing existed, I would find any excuse to go into it and stare at the rocks, butterflies, leaves and the exceptionally tiny stuffed lion. (It was really tiny folks!) Being in a museum often feels like being given a short-term passport into a lost and forgotten fantasy world. This fantasy world is slightly fuzzy at its edges, kept apart from the harshness of reality. It is somewhat fitting, therefore, an emblem of a dying world, that the museum I knew in Ife no longer exists and has been replaced by a new-fangled shiny museum.