CBAAC/TOFAC 2012: Charting a timely course for Africa’s development

Posted: July 13, 2012 in arts/culture

Undoubtedly, these are not the best of times for the continent and peoples of Africa. On the receiving end of the currently ravaging global economic recession, terrorism and political instability, ethnic and tribal engendered conflicts in virtually every part of the continent, African, as many posit, is getting more than its fair share of troubles.

It is therefore against the backdrop of these upheavals that the recently concluded second edition of the Toyin Falola International Conference on Africa and the African Diaspora (TOFAC) is better appreciated and understood.

A collaborative effort of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), and the Ibadan Cultural Studies Group (ICSG) of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, the three-day conference at the Excellence Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, gathered the best of scholars and political experts from around the world to brainstorm on the myriads of challenges facing the peoples of the continent as well as the plethora of opportunities for growth the continent represents in the changing and evolving political and economic climate of the world.

In line with its mandate from its parent Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation to promote public interest in, understanding and appreciation of Black and African arts and culture by placing emphasis on the contributions of Black and African people to world’s civilization, CBAAC appears to have become resolute in its quest to chart a new frontier for the continent by way of exploring the many veritable platforms for economic and political development of the continent, seemingly more than any other related agency of government.

The timing of the conference proper barely days after an insurgency in the ancient city of Timbuktu, in Mali destroyed priceless artifact and heritage commonly shared by the continent’s peoples on the excuse of religion, the political troubles in Libya, Egypt, Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, South Africa, Kenya, Congo DR, is commendable, as the directionless leadership of the continent’s political class was increasing becoming glaring.

The conflict of cultures and traditional religions thrown up in the modern era that is unfolding in countries like Nigeria, Mali and others therefore informs a need for experts to gather and brainstorm with a view to unravelling where the peoples of the continent had gone wrong in history, in addition to carving out a more expedient and proactive role for the Diaspora communities who dot the landscape of the globe, which the conference unanimously addressed.

With over 90 papers presented including three keynote papers and speakers from parts of the world, in addition to 148 abstracts submitted at the conference, the conference impressively gathered over 41 experts from the academia and professional stables to an equally appreciable audience drawn all walks of life.

Named after Prof Toyin Falola, the iconic historian and current Vice President of the International Scientific Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s Slave Route Project, the TOFAC conference is organized annually every first week in July, to address cultural issues that relate to Africa and the Diaspora in the strict academic tradition, with a view to exploring possible collaboration on matters of culture and global peace. It is a global forum that is designed to engage minds for ideation, intellection and distillation in culture discourses for advancing the cause of Africa and the globe.

The conference also provides an international forum where scholars, researchers, graduate students, and technocrats from all over the world converge.

TOFAC is so named as an enduring legacy in honour of Professor Toyin Falola of the University of Texas at Austin, United States, in recognition of his tremendous achievements as a scholar and teacher of African and African American History.

Falola is the Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, a creative writer, a foremost academic icon and certainly, the most celebrated published African/Black scholar of all times.

At the tenth Africa conference that was held late last March, 2010, at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Falola’s significant milestone of having published more than a hundred books on numerous core topics about Africa, African nations and the globe, were celebrated by more than six hundred participants. Additionally, thousands of teaming admirers and well wishers joined in the celebration of this phenomenon, an enigma, one of Nigeria’s nay Africa’s rare gifts to the world, on the internet.  Two books were presented at the event to mark the great occasion, The Long Arm of Africa: The Prodigious Career of Toyin Falola (180pp), which contains the summary of each of Dr. Falola’s 100+published books co-edited by Vik Hahl and Falola’s daughter, Bisola and Toyin Falola: the Man, The Mask, The Muse, a 1015 page-festschrift edited by Niyi Afolabi. This unique festschrift includes contributions from 48 top scholars as well as a prologue.


The keynote speakers for this year’s edition include: Prof Michael Vickers, Emeritus Director, parliamentary and Public Affairs, The Hillfield Agency, United Kingdom; Prof Timothy Stapleton, of the Department of History, Trent University, Canada; as well as Prof. Barbara Harlow of the Department of English, University of Texas at Austin, United States.

Formally declaring the event open on Tuesday, Director General of CBAAC, Prof Tunde Babawale, noted that over the years, the centre has used the platform of lectures, seminars, symposia, workshops and exhibitions to achieve her statutory objectives, as he further added that the decision to organize the conference is ‘ one of the ways by which we direct public attention to matters of concern to Black and African peoples across the world.’

Explaining the theme of the conference, which is Cultures, Identities, Nationalities and Modernity in Africa and the African Diaspora, Babawale described it as timely as it intends to create the avenue for scholars, researchers and students the opportunity to share their thoughts and views on the evolving culture, identities, and nationalities which have been occasioned by globalization and which Africa in turn has found itself in.

According to Babawale, the decision to partner with the Ibadan Cultural Studies Group was informed by the need to recognise Falola not only to scholarship but also to humanity at large.

“It is our policy and tradition here at CBAAC to always celebrate the living greats. We at CBAAC believe that it is better to celebrate such achievers when they are alive than dead. This thought is propelled by the need to encourage them to continue on the path of excellence that they have chosen. We also believe that by celebrating such individuals, many people would be encouraged to be more dedicated to their calling,” said Babawale.

On his part, Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, while commending CBAAC and ICSG for hosting a timely conference as the TOFAC 2012, corroborated Babawale’s position when he stressed that his ministry was open to such initiatives which seek to honour scholars whose contributions have continued to propel interest in African history and culture.

“I believe by giving honour to these distinguished and exemplary teachers, we shall be encouraging others in similar professions to give greater dedication to their calling. By choosing to honour them while they are hale and hearty, we are also encouraging them to keep up their good work. Through this recognition, many of our people would appreciate the virtues of perseverance, honesty and hardwork,” Duke noted.

Duke who thereafter described the issues addressed by the conference as timely, relevant and germane, expressed the hope the resolutions reached ‘would chart policies that will aid global effort at facilitating understanding among the diverse cultural backgrounds and assist in global peace building.’

Remarkably, the minister used the occasion of the conference to announce his determination to set up a Department of Diaspora Affairs in the ministry, which according to him, he intends to push forward the federal government, in the same vein, as he also promised to institute another colloquium at the forthcoming Abuja Carnival in honour of Prof Falola, and ‘other people that continue to contribute to the growth and development of their society.’

Highpoints of the three-day conference was the honour bestowed on three other scholars; Professors Benjamin Olatunji Oloruntimehin, Paul Zeleta and Michael Vickers. There was also the formal presentation of the Conference plaque by the ICSG Board to the minister for onward hand over to Prof Babawale on behalf CBAAC as hosts of the 2012 edition.

In addition to several laurels he has gathered over the years from leading academic institutions around the globe in acknowledgment of his immense contributions to scholarship, especially in African and African American studies, on Saturday evening of October 31, 2009,Prof. Falola was presented with the prestigious Africana Studies Distinguished Global Scholar Lifetime Achievement Award by Chancellor Charles Bantz of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis at the Award Dinner for the 1st Public Scholars in Africana Studies International Conference on Globalisation held in Indianapolis. The occasion was witnessed by hundreds of participants.

Falola has also distinguished himself as a teacher par excellence. For example, besides being the Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor and Distinguished Teaching Professor of History, he was the recipient of the much coveted 2010 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award at the University of Texas at Austin and inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers as a result of the recognition he received from his colleagues and students for his tremendous skills in classroom teaching, contributions to his graduate students, his mentoring, and outstanding skills in supervising numerous theses, reports, and  dissertations.

Therefore, TOFAC as an annual conference is the least we can put in place to sustain and ensure the continuity of what Professor Toyin Falola lives for, labours for and has copiously written about in his 119 published books (at the last count many months ago) – the promotion of excellence in Africa and the Diaspora scholarship.

The third edition of TOFAC in 2013 will be hosted by the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Ondo State.


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