The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

Catalysing Africa-Asia Exchanges

Webby S. Kalikiti

I consider it a great honour to have been asked to write something on my long and fruitful relationship with IIAS, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. I was a fellow at IIAS in 2006, courtesy of the International Institute for Social History (IISH), which funded my three-month stay in The Netherlands. Before that year, I was one of the SEPHIS PhD research recipients in 1997. The award allowed me to carry out fieldwork in Vietnam for six months. However, my introduction to Asia started way back in the late 1980’s, when a French government scholarship allowed me to work under French experts of Vietnam at the Université Paris 7.

Over the years, that initial contact with IIAS led to a number of critical initiatives that aimed to build academic bridges between Africa and Asia and more recently, linkages between academic institutions in Africa and Southeast Asia.

In 2010, under IIAS’s direction, partners in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States started working together on an attempt to conceptualise a capacity-building initiative aimed at promoting the teaching, study, and research on Asia in African universities.

In 2012 and for the first time ever in Africa, IIAS was instrumental in organising a roundtable on ‘Asian Studies in Africa’ in Chisamba, near Lusaka, Zambia. This meeting discussed how ideas on Asia and Africa, which at the time were somewhat abstract and inchoate, could provide a basis for building capacities in African and Asian Studies in the two continents. Over 30 participants from Africa, America, Asia, and Europe attended the roundtable. IIAS played the most important roles of financing, organising, assisting with logistics, and identifying potential participants. This first meeting resulted in the creation of the Association of Asian Studies in Africa (A-ASIA).

In 2015, the University of Ghana (in close collaboration with IIAS), organised the first major conference on Asian Studies in Africa. This meeting was attended by over 250 academics, researchers, publishers, and other interested parties. Its great success was largely due to the efforts of IIAS staff and local participants. In 2018, IIAS was once again the key player in yet another A-ASIA conference held in Tanzania, at the University of Dar-es-Salaam. Over 300 academics attended this gathering of Asia scholars.

Meetings in 2020 and 2023 brought academics and researchers together from the Universities of Kasetsart in Bangkok, Thailand; the University of Airlangga (UNAIR) in Surabaya, Indonesia; the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, Senegal; the University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania; and the University of Zambia. All of these are a result of the instrumental role that IIAS, through its global reach and highly experienced staff, has played and continues to play in fostering innovative ways of constructing a new architecture of academic contacts and knowledge production through South-South collaborative efforts. The setting up of new centres focused on Africa and the Indian Ocean at Kasetsart and UNAIR, respectively, the establishment of a Centre for Asian Studies at the University of Ghana, and ongoing efforts to set up similar centres in East-Central and West Africa are some of the tangible results of IIAS’s catalytic role.         

At personal level, my long interaction with IIAS and its staff has resulted in a very fruitful and productive relationship. IIAS has given me opportunities to not only travel but promote A-ASIA in Africa and Asia through participation in conferences and attendance of meetings aimed at promoting academic and research linkages between Africa and Asia, and more recently, between Africa and Southeast Asia.

In 2012, IIAS facilitated my tour of Asia, where I discussed the objectives of A-ASIA, possible areas of collaboration in teaching Africa and Asia, staff and student exchange programmes, and possible research agendas with academic staff and researchers in Singapore and Taiwan. All interactions aimed to seek prospects for the establishment of academic partnerships, postgraduate training for African students, as well as possible signing of MOU’s between African and Asian universities. Later in 2012, IIAS made it possible for me to attend the ICAS conference in Macao where, along with other members of A-ASIA, we were able to once more present and discuss A-ASIA’s aspirations with eminent scholars of Africa and Asia.   

In 2018, I attended ICAS 11 in Leiden, where I participated in a number of panels on Africa and Asia. Later that year, I attended the conference in Tanzania that IIAS and the University of Dar-es-Salaam organised. This conference was very important to me. I presented a paper on Vietnam and Africa, and participated in other panels on Vietnam. As a result of the conference in Dar-es-Salaam and thanks once more to IIAS, later in 2018, I was invited to attend a conference on Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City and Phan Thiet.

From all of these instances, it is clear that IIAS has not only been a major driver of initiatives, but has over the years also acted as a catalyst for the emerging academic interest in Asia on Africa. Personally, IIAS has greatly contributed to my work as an academic and has afforded me opportunities to interact with and establish networks with Asia scholars within and beyond Africa.


Webby S. Kalikiti, University of Zambia, Zambia