UWI, UNILAG agree to African and diaspora studies institute

Sunday, May 21, 2017

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The University of Lagos (UNILAG) in the Nigerian capital and The University of the West Indies (UWI) on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of a joint institute to be known as The UWI-UNILAG Institute of African and Diaspora Studies. It is designed to bring African, Afro-Caribbean and African diaspora scholars together to travel to each other's space, to teach and to research simultaneously and in collaboration.

The universities said the UWI-UNILAG Institute of African and Diaspora Studies will focus on solutions-oriented research and programme delivery, which is expected to be rolled out with the interdisciplinary master's programme in African history and culture at the start of the next semester.

According to Vice Chancellor of UWI, Professor Hilary Beckles, the concept, which has been in the oven for some 41 years, comes at the end of a long journey.

“African children in the diaspora want to connect, they want to belong. So having this institute will shrink the Atlantic, once deemed scary, into a very small river that we will traverse,” he said.

Professor Beckles noted that far too many people write about African history without having travelled to the continent to have a first-hand experience, but he believes the institute, which is envisioned to be a platform for exchange of cultural and social ideas and research excellence in pursuit of knowledge for the development of Africa, the African Diaspora and the world, will soon change that.

“We are shrinking space, unifying ourselves and removing barriers and laying the foundation for the rise of an understanding of global Africa. For the better part of 100 years we have been working separately, but this (the institute) will remove the divide. We'll now work together and flesh out the details. So when our colleagues leave here (Mona) and go to UNILAG to teach for a semester, a month or two weeks, that journey will be seen as a domestic journey and not an international one.”

For his part, Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos Professor Rahamon Bello said, “As the black man, there are many unanswered questions, the answers to which we'll never find if we remain in divide. This (the institute) is more than two universities, but for the entire black race.”

Beckles, meanwhile, noted that the decision to partner with Nigeria made sense because “Jamaica is largely a Nigerian society; approximately 60 per cent”.

He argued that the institute will, therefore, serve to uncover some of the mysteries in which several Jamaican practices are rooted, such as the planting of yam using sticks.

The UWI-UNILAG Institute of African and Diaspora Studies will have two sites, one at the JP Clark Centre adjacent to the Faculty of Arts building at UNILAG, and the other at UWI's regional headquarters, Mona. In Nigeria, it will be styled UNILAG-UWI Institute of African and Diaspora Studies.

— Sasha Rowe


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