From May 30th to June 3rd, 2023, the M8-Master’s Project: Research Workshop + Seminar, led by Everjoy Chiimba and Julia Verne, travelled to Cologne for the 9th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS). This conference marked a significant moment as it resumed after a three-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the theme of “African Futures,” the event drew over 2000 participants from 80 countries who excitedly (re)connected, networked, and contributed to 245 panels across various disciplines.
For our MA group, this conference provided a valuable opportunity to gain further insights into the topic of decolonial thinking in research collaborations within Africa. One question was constantly present, sometimes more, sometimes less explicit, never vanishing or resolved:
“Is there a future for African studies in Europe?”
This was also the central topic of the opening panel, which consisted of African and (Afro)Caribbean scholars. Moderated by media presenter ShaNon Bobinger, the participants engaged in thought-provoking discussions, addressing issues such as the concept of African identity beyond geographical confines, the utilization of existing knowledge, the role of social transformation, and the pursuit of true decoloniality amidst challenges like violent past and borders as well as visa restrictions. Amidst the wide range of perspectives, one panelist advocated for focusing on taking action as Africans, arguing that it was not his place to tell Europeans what to do. Conversely, another panelist emphasized the critical importance of this question as “Europe cannot cut away a slice of Africa and study it in isolation”. ECAS was also challenged to host the next conference in Africa. However, it has been announced that the next ECAS will take place in Czech Republic, Prague in 2025 from the 25-28th of June.
Throughout the conference, the issue of failed visa applications remained prominent was the visa struggles faced by African scholars. Some had to resort to presenting via Zoom due to rejected visa applications and a lack of funding. Despite these challenges, the conference organizers provided travel passes within Cologne and offered abundant quality food and refreshments which allowed for a good and cost-effective experience for many participants. The conference was accompanied by a cultural program (art performances, boat ride…), which allowed participant as well as non-participants to continue discussions outside of the conference, to enjoy the approaching summer and to simply socialize.
Insightful, confrontational, formidable, challenging… All these words were used by the students to describe the ECAS-experience. Overall, they found the conference to be an interesting site for collaborative event ethnography as part of their MA program. However, they also expressed feeling overwhelmed by the fast-paced nature of the event and the difficulty of keeping up with the extensive program, as there were multiple interesting sessions happening simultaneously. Apart from that, there were many thoughts and talks about positionality, feeling like imposters, and the excitement of being surrounded by so many diverse scientists who were kind and genuinely interested in conversations with the students. Aside from the tight ECAS program, there was also some time to explore Cologne. All „obligatory“ leisure activities were covered: visiting the Dom, crossing the Hohenzollernbrücke, testing authentic Kölsch beer, and nibbling on pizza in the sunset on the shores of the Rhine.