Desmond Davies, GNA London Bureau Chief
London, Nov. 22, GNA – Although last week’s Africa Week programme at King’s College London was the first of its kind, organisers of the series of events used the opportunity to highlight the long connection between the institution and the continent.
Opening the last programme of the eventful week, a day-long conference on Africa’s agency in the Greater Horn of Africa, Professor ‘Funmi Olonisakin, Vice President and Vice Principal (International) at King’s, said: “Let me first acknowledge that the continent of Africa, which is the focus of our attention this week, is one that has had a difficult if not problematic history with Britain and Europe.
“But the question of agency which is the focus of today’s conference is apt for framing the history and emerging pattern of King’s engagement with Africa.”
For example, one connection goes back four generations of a King’s College alumnus, Bishop Akinpelu Johnson, the current Anglican Bishop of Lagos Mainland in Nigeria.
Records show that members of Bishop Johnson’s family have studied at King’s for a long time, starting with Obadiah Johnson who graduated in 1884 with a degree in medicine.
Undoubtedly the most famous African to have studied at King’s is the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, who fought robustly against apartheid in South Africa.
A former Archbishop of South Africa and Nobel Peace laureate, he took his bachelor's and master's degrees at King's in the 1960s.
On King’s College’s website Archbishop Tutu said: “I have wonderful, happy memories of my time at King's.
“My experience was one of great encouragement and support in my academic studies and an acceptance and warmth from my fellow students.”
He added: “Study opened up a whole new world to me.
“I was excited by the accessibility of books, the freedom to question and to debate and the opportunity to listen to the wisdom of minds whose experience and learning left me eager to discover more.”
A Fellow of King's since 1978, Archbishop Tutu was visiting professor in post-conflict societies in 2004 to mark the 175th anniversary of the institution.
One of his roles was to teach students studying for the Associateship of King's College (AKC); a qualification unique to King's which provides lectures on aspects of ethics, philosophy and theology, according to the King’s website.
An Africa Society existed at King’s in the 1950s and from the 1970s the institution enrolled many law students from Africa.
In the 1980s, King’s began to record War Studies alumni of African descent.
Professor Olonisakin, the most senior African on the King’s leadership team, said that the pattern for those early students from Africa was to study and return to the continent.
“In the 1990s-2000s the first generation British of African descent alongside African Caribbean…began a process of intense engagement between King’s and Africa.
“In 2015, the first Africans emerged from within King’s as professors [and] in 2017, the first African emerged on the senior leadership team at King’s.”
She added: “Today, several factors separate Africa at King’s from Africa in any other UK or indeed European university.
“A pattern is emerging, a revolutionary methodology in which Africans are not mere consumers of knowledge about Africa but Africans and Africanists are becoming authentic co-creators of that knowledge.
“Africans and African institutions are not studied at a distance but engaged in a deep partnership of equals.
“Africans are not just being facilitated but are co-facilitators in the process of knowledge production and transfer.
“The vision of our engagement is for the transformation of the African peoples we study and study with the transformation of the continent.
“This is evident in several parts of King’s as the work of African Leadership Centre, War Studies/Africa Research Group and our Global Health Institute initiatives have shown,” added Prof Olonisakin who is the founding Director of the African Leadership (ALC), which has trained several Ghanaians.
“We are showcasing the emerging of African agency within our own institution as we debate what agency looks like on the African continent.
“It is instructive that we are doing so as a conversation among ourselves and with our close-knit networks within and outside Africa.
“The Africa Week is an exemplar and today’s conference is one that helps us return to an important subject of African agency.
“This is happening against the backdrop of King’s new Internationalisation Strategy, Internationalisation 2029, which emphasises two core values: cultural competency and global problem-solving,” she added.
Last year, Professor Olonisakin and her colleagues from the ALC visited Dowen College in Lagos to deliver a programme aimed at 12 to 16-year-olds to inspire them to focus on “the development of Nigeria, the wider African continent and the world”.