Unique group celebrates York Africanist John Saul

This story was submitted by Richard Saunders, professor in York’s Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts, and an organizer of the conference.

York played host to a rare grouping of leading Africanist political economists and grassroots practitioners from Africa, Europe, the United States and Canada. “Africa – The Next Liberation Struggle: socialism, democracy, activism”, featured a roundtable plenary and workshop, and brought together more than 150 participants and presenters over two days.

john s saulThe events, held Oct. 15 and 16, celebrated the career of Professor John S. Saul, left, who last year retired from full-time teaching in the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Arts, at York. In November Saul will be further honoured in Ottawa when he is made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Seizing on dominant themes in Saul’s path-breaking work, the York meeting considered recent African experiences of, and the prospects for, the deepening of popular democracy and the movement towards more equitable development on the world’s most underdeveloped continent. Participants engaged in lively and intense debate over the failure of post-independence “nationalist democracy” to deliver the goods; the complicating issues of identity and “ethnic” cleavages in the emergence of new national politics; the nature of possible future socialist transitions in Africa; and the role of scholar-activists in the north and south in pursuit of new African “liberation” projects.

Many of the participants had worked with and been influenced by Saul, who has been a leading international Africanist for nearly five decades.

Speakers included academics and researchers from Africa, Europe and North America, and NGO activists and younger scholars and students from Africa and Canada. Several speakers were former students of Saul’s; others were colleagues who had worked with him in Africa in the ’60s and ’70s.

For African scholars it was a rare opportunity to review the debates and issues that have defined critical African political economy since the 1960s, by engaging in close proximity with both the established and up-and-coming scholars and activists who have been at the forefront of the discipline.

For further information on the papers, presentations and proceedings of the workshop, visit the Africa Liberation Web site.