On the 8th of June 2019, we held the 2nd annual conference of Forever Africa Conference and Events [FACE 2019] at the university of Bristol. The theme of the conference was Building the Pan-African Inspired Multiversity. A short vision statement can be found here. The gist of the vision is that the Pan-African inspired multiversity appreciates that the particular history, experience and intellectual thought of Africans and people of African descent are necessary and essential to creating a different world. The outcome document from the conference is forthcoming. However, at this time I would like to share the opening address.
I want to share the opening address primarily because it contains a land acknowledgement. I cannot recall the first time I heard a land acknowledgement, but I know that it was powerful. Land acknowledgements often take place in settler colonies, like the Americas or in Australasia. Examples of such acknowledgements are:
“This event is taking place on traditional Chickasaw land.”
“We are gathered today on the occupied territory of the Musqueam people, who have stewarded this land for generations.” [Examples found in Teen Vogue]
I believe it is important to precede talks and programmes with an acknowledgement of the land, the history and the people, because an acknowledgement is a recognition that we exist as beings connected to everything, by time and space, connected to everything that has ever been and everything that will ever be.
But how do you acknowledge the effects of colonisation and slavery on African and African-descended people? [and I make no distinction between slavery and colonisation in this context, because while processes may differ, ideology, purpose and actors combine]. Especially for the descendants of kidnapped Africans where the very essence of the atrocities that they suffer(ed) was an acute dislocation from the land? How do we acknowledge that brutal dislocation and persistent de-fellowship from humanity? How do we acknowledge that the purposes of that process was to illegitimate accumulation of the earth’s resources? What you see below is my attempt to engage with these questions, especially in the context of a Pan-African event, in a university whose history is entangled with the trade in kidnapped Africans, in a city which research has shown is worst city for racial equality in the UK.
The video comes first [The camera was a big shaky but the sound is good] and then the text [without my adlibs]
Why Do We Want to Build the Pan-African Inspired Multiversity?
Good morning and welcome.
I would first like to thank all our partners, without whom all this would have been impossible:
- The University of Bristol
- The Global Lounge, the University of Bristol
- The Law School, The University of Bristol
- Centre for Black Humanities, the University of Bristol
- ACP Young Professionals Network
A massive thank you to our speakers, the enthusiasm with which our invitations to speak were answered touches my heart deeply. Thank you so much.
A deep appreciation from the bottom of my heart to our international advisory board, some members are here today, they have given invaluable insight, direction, and objectivity to our plans and the finished product.
I want to give special thanks and recognition to the student volunteers on the organising committee who have been so energetic, innovative, untiring, diligent, committed, enthusiastic, tireless, motivated, dynamic… It has been my absolute honour and privilege to work with them. They are our present and they are our future. And the future is bright.
A reminder that we are in the UN International Decade of People of African Descent, the theme of which is recognition, justice and development for children of Africa.
Land, History and People Acknowledgement
In what has now become a tradition in many conferences across the globe, I would like to welcome you all into this space with a series of acknowledgements. We acknowledge the land where we stand. We acknowledge what this land means to the people who have lived on it, what it means to people who have passed through it, what it means to people who have been affected by it though far removed from this geographical space. We acknowledge that Bristol is a city in many ways built on the trade in kidnapped African people. Stolen lives, stolen pasts, stolen futures and stolen possibilities. We acknowledge that this university is in many ways built on the back of that, and that where epistemicides preceded physical death, the academe is implicated. We acknowledge that the trauma that lives on in the atmosphere, we acknowledge the history that bleeds into the present, we acknowledge that we walk here side by side with history’s ghosts. We acknowledge that history lives with us.
However, in the tradition of African and African descended people, I also welcome you into this space by acknowledging all our ancestors, every single heart and soul that came before us and who lives on in us. Their lives tell us that as we exist in this space, we are not alone, they still dream with us, they still hope with us, they still pray with us. We acknowledge that we are the fulfilment of dangerous and audacious dreams. We are the manifestation of secret wishes spoken in the deep recesses of the night. We are the bodily articulation of ideas no one really believed would come to pass. We are not alone. Our past is present in our future. As we meet together today, we are speaking impossible dreams into the future. For the generations that will come after us. They will not be alone. Because, we are forever. Forever Africa.
Now some may say that I am almost inordinately obsessed with the study of history. But history is important. History is the vital foundation of every section of knowledge. It can give and it can take away. Many the greatest injustices in the world have involved the distortion of history and the theft of time. By obscuring history and histories, we often fail to notice how history reinvents itself, how time returns and how everywhere we go colonisation follows us. How everywhere we stand is colonial ground. Everywhere. Even here. Especially here.
The Pan-African Inspired Multiversity
Last year, at FACE 2018, Brother Kofi Klu Mawuli, called me a guerrilla within the university. I admit I didn’t pay much attention at the time, between ensuring that panels kept to time, food was served, all protocols were observed, I am afraid I was not able to dwell much on what was being said. But I have had a year to reflect on what Brother Kofi meant by my being a guerrilla. A friend and colleague of mine who uses a similar idea when describing how people racialised as other inhabit space calls it being a decolonial ‘infection.’ However, I am also minded of the misgivings many of us have about the co-option of decolonisation and limitation of representation and ideas of ‘Black excellence.’
We note that when Africans and African descended people enter into spaces such as these, where we don’t traditionally appear, our mere existence may call into question and highlight exclusionary practices, but that itself does nothing to change those practices. Yes, we bring our worlds with us, and we hope those worlds will be liberatory, but what experience and time has shown us, is that merely existing in these spaces is insufficient for liberation, and the mere passage of time, can just be time passing as oppression is reinvented. How then do we ensure that our being here in this space enables the particularity of African and African descended life to be acknowledged, celebrated, liberated and guaranteed a rich and beautiful future? How do we ensure that the future that we dream of, speak of, plan for and build towards is not merely a reaction to the chastisements we have been scourged with, but complete freedom from them? How do we build a future within the very structures predicated on our destruction? How do we heal the divisions between us that were and are meant to hold us back? Distorted knowledge was what created the colonial archive that enabled the oppression and dehumanisation that followed from it and still flows from it. Knowledge was the first frontier of unfreedom and it is the last frontier of freedom. So how do we create knowledges that centre us as Africans and African descended people? How do we have education structures that operate for us? How do we build the Pan-African Multiversity? Why should we build it?
Later today we will be inaugurating the FACE Pius Adesanmi Memorial Student Award for Outstanding Pan-Africanism. While I don’t want to steal Dr Hadiza’s thunder I just want to say that the late Prof Pius Adesanmi was exceptionally vocal about the need for critical and intellectual foundations for liberation. He also understood that when we are used to the politics of bread, we get distracted from a closer examination of the systemic and structural architecture of a world designed to keep us playing the politics of bread. We are trapped in time as history reinvents itself, fighting the same enemy as he changes his faces. We may win some battles, but that is not the way to win this war. We must know that knowledge was the first frontier of unfreedom and it will be the last frontier of freedom. Until we cross it, we are trapped in unfreedom.
And for that reason, we need to pay more attention to each other, Africans and African descended people. We need to pay more attention to what will deliver us than what is trying to destroy us. We can build nothing when we are trapped in defence. In defence we are trapped in time, constantly defending ourselves against the morphing nature of anti-Blackness and Afrophobia. As we gather together today, I must confess, I don’t have many answers, but I know we must ask the right questions. And if we want a future in which Africanness and Blackness is not completely obliterated, a future for Africa and her children, then we need to build the intellectual foundations of freedom together. We can build nothing that will last if we fail to come together. If we fail to build together.
You can read some of my thoughts about the foundations of the Pan-African inspired multiversity, in the conference programme and on our website, but I would like to end now with the paraphrased words of Lucille Clifton: ‘come, won’t you celebrate with us that everyday, something has tried to kill us and has failed’.
And if we stand together, dream together, work together, build together everyday… everyday, something may try to kill us. But it will fail.
Thank you and enjoy the rest of the programme.
Video for the Inauguration of the FACE Pius Adesanmi Memorial Student Award for Outstanding Pan-Africanism.