Development of institutional academic infrastructures, capable of delivering foundational knowledge on Asia, has been seen as an essential prerequisite if Africa was to benefit from its multifaceted contacts with that world region, and could provide a basis for sustained socio-economic progress on the continent. There is no doubt that access to knowledge on Asia through academic engagements should help us give meaning to the now intensified intercontinental relationships, and enable Africans to tap into Asia’s immense social and economic strengths to feed their own envisaged economic development.
My personal experience from doing research in Vietnam many years ago, has made me realise how much Africa can learn from the Asian experience. I was particularly struck by how easily Vietnamese cities manage their solid waste disposal, a matter that is considered to be a major environmental issue across Africa, but I also saw how the use of coal dust as a source of energy has helped Vietnam mitigate the effects of wanton forest clearing for the production of charcoal. Given the two above examples, building capacities in Asian studies in Africa could provide Africa with new ways of looking at and addressing its problems, and could also open new perspectives on possible development trajectories.
Lessons from Asia can be best learnt through academic engagements and with them, a deeper appreciation of that part of the world. Over the years an increasing, though still a relatively small number of Africans have continued to obtain PhD qualifications on aspects of Asia in Asian academic institutions, some in form of comparative studies, others as in depth studies of the Asian social, economic or political scene. However, once qualified, these academics/researchers end up as isolated ‘Asianists’ in institutions that seem to have little use for their qualifications.
This is where an initiative on “Asian studies in Africa” comes in. Its aim of building educational capacity in the continent should help to provide the critical platform necessary for the development of regular introductory programmes on Asia in African academic institutions. However, building capacity presupposes first, the need to take stock of the existing state of Asian studies; secondly, it means identifying and regularly bringing together Africans who have studied Asia or expressed interests in Asia; and thirdly, the need to develop a network that could connect these local ‘Asianists’ in such a way that their combined knowledge on Asia could be harnessed for the development of continent-wide programmes on Asian studies in Africa. To achieve this ambitious objective, support and collaboration between African, Asian and Western academic and research institutions is essential. This is one of the reasons we will gatherered in Accra, Ghana, in 2015. I strongly believe that, the ground-breaking conference, provides the way forward for the Asian studies in Africa initiative.Concrete steps on how to expand the vision of a field of Asian studies in Africa, as was envisaged four years ago, will be established. The Association for Asian Studies in Africa(A-ASIA) will play a vital role in realizing this vision and as president I look forward to working with you all in navigating the way forward.