Leading African scholar Professor Eghosa Emmanuel Osaghae is the first of the 2017 Van Zyl Slabbert Visiting Professors at the University of Cape Town. The Van Zyl Slabbert Chair honours Dr. Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert’s commitment to an open and democratic society. The Visiting Professorships are located in the Departments of Political Studies and Sociology. Humanities News asked the incumbent about his decision to return to the University of Cape Town and, about his plans for his two-month term:
HN: You currently hold the position of Professor of Comparative Politics and, Vice Chancellor of Igbinedion University, Okada (Nigeria). What informed the decision to return to UCT in 2017?
EO: I was initially here (at UCT) in 1994 and I spent the next three years in other parts of South Africa. By 1998, my research interests had moved to focus on South Africa. There was a lot going on back then from a Social Scientist’s point of view and now, two decades later I thought, why not come and see the kinds of things that are going on now. What better place to do that than at UCT, where I was back in 1994.
HN: What will be your level of interaction with UCT students?
EO: To begin with, I love teaching undergraduate students because that is where the foundation is. I am happy to say that my teaching at UCT will be at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I will be meeting students in the Political Studies department to begin with but I am hoping that there will be an opportunity to do something in Sociology also. In addition to that, I plan to bring students together to talk about some of the things that they are studying. I will host a departmental seminar looking at state-society relations in Africa. We are going to re-read and re-interpret the South African case because I think it is important to ask the question ‘what lessons can South Africa learn from the rest of the Continent’? I hope that at the end of it all, there will be a Public Lecture, on the theme of colonization, colonialism and decolonisation – currently, the big elephant in the room in South Africa. Decolonisation is not a South African invention. It is a global movement and so we will be looking at how a global movement manifests or crystallizes here in South Africa. What are the globalizing issues, what are the localising issues? What are the institutional manifestations of colonization here? I hope that this event will throw light on these issues but most importantly and in keeping with the tradition of the Van Zyl Slabbert Chair, provoke a debate so that people can begin to review and reconsider some of these issues. We also plan to host a major Van Zyl Slabbert conference in July to look at some of these issues in a more multidisciplinary way. We intend to bring together scholars from within and beyond the institution - from sociologists, economists to political scientists and philosophers. The African voice on decolonisation has been very thin so I hope that this chair affords the opportunity to reopen some of these debates, just in case we think they have been settled.
HN: This is not your first time at UCT. In the early 90's you were a Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Studies. What has changed since then?
EO: Well the infrastructure remains basically the same although the landscape has changed quite a bit. By which I mean some of the landmarks such as Rhodes Statue for instance, have been moved. I also see that there is now a Mandela Road/Park on campus. In terms of the content and complexion of the University, in February 1994 when I was here (before the democratic transition took place in April), UCT was already thinking about a transformation strategy. At the time there were a couple of African students in the University but not that many, there was a remedial programme to better prepare matriculants for university. However for me, the significance of my being here at that time was the fact that I must have been the first African to teach in the Department of Political Studies in the history of UCT. It was unbelievable how students would throng the vicinities of where I was teaching because for them, it was a different experience to see an African also teaching. That’s not long ago. Back then, there were only nine of us who were African in the entire Faculty. These colleagues included Professor Barney Pityane and Mamphele Ramphele. So, what has changed? Coming back here now, I see many more African students; there is greater diversity in the composition of the academic and non-teaching staff and this is a reflection of the demographic makeup of the country. The curriculum within the Political Studies department has seen some transformation also. The content and scope are deeper than what we had back then. There is still a lot of room for improvement but one hopes that this progress can be sustained.
HN: What will be the key outcomes from your VZS tenure?
EO: We will be looking at new ways of reaching out to the wider scholarly audiences whilst interfacing with the society. Ensuring that what we do remains relevant in terms of what is actually going on in society. In terms of the concrete deliverables, the Public Lecture is a major one but we also intend to publish a monograph to consolidate the work that we will have done.
HN: Your research interests include peace and conflict studies in Africa. What lessons can South Africa learn from the rest of the African Continent?
EO: The political economy of the country (South Africa) has created a situation where the issues of peace and conflict are different from how they have appeared in other parts of Africa. I think that South Africa is a little better positioned to address some of the issues however I would not want to preempt the upcoming Van Zyl Slabbert seminar and conference where will unpack and debate this very question…..
About Professor Osaghae:
Eghosa E. Osaghae (PhD Political Science, 1986) is a tenured Professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Ibadan and Vice Chancellor of Igbinedion University Okada, Nigeria. He was the Emeka Anyaoku Chair of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London for 2013/2014, and gave the Chair’s inaugural lecture, A State of Our Own: Second Independence, Federalism and the Decolonisation of the State in Africa, in April 2014, the first inaugural lecture by a Nigerian at the University. Before taking up appointment at Okada, he was Leader of the Ford Foundation’s Programme on Ethnic and Federal Studies and Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Ibadan. Between 1994 and 1998, he was Professor and Head of the Department of Political Studies at the University of Transkei, now Walter Sisulu University, South Africa. He has also been a Visiting Professor/Fellow/Distinguished Senior Scholar at a number of international institutions including: the Carter Centre of Emory University USA (1989), University of Liberia (1989/90), Salzburg Seminar, Austria (1993), University of Cape Town South Africa (1994), the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala Sweden (1994), University of Ulster, Northern Ireland (1999, 2000), Northwestern University USA (2002, 2004), University of Cambridge UK (2003) as well as at a number of universities and research institutes in India (2005, 2009) and others.
Professor Osaghae’s academic specialization is in the areas of ethnicity, conflict management, federalism and governance and he is regarded as a leading African scholar on ethnicity and federalism. He has published extensively on these subjects in books and journals, including the award-winning book, Crippled Giant: Nigeria since Independence, (C. Hurst & Indiana University Press, 1998). Professor Osaghae served as Chair of the Panel on Quality Assurance Assessment, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, 2011-2012, as Consultant to the African Development Bank’s Country Mission to Zambia, in which capacity he produced the country’s Governance Profile in 2002. He is currently a UN Expert Consultant on Somalia.