Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award
Canadian Association of African Studies
May 31, 2023
I am grateful to Mr. President, the Vice-President, the Past President, the Director, the Board Members, and all the members of the Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS). Having been conferred with the Distinguished Africanist Award by the African Studies Association in 2011, I never expected that another one would follow by yet another global preeminent academic association.
I stand before you at this honorable time, emotionally touched by your generosity towards me and greatly inspired by your rare gesture of recognizing the little I have contributed to knowledge production and the rejuvenation of African epistemic traditions. The decision to acknowledge me, perhaps unknown to you, rekindles in me the spirit of continued dedication, for it reveals that the ability to make changes is unrestricted by age or location, especially when the soul is involved. Meanwhile, change is necessary for sustainable and transcendental transformation; without change, ideas would die of exhaustion, creativity would cease to be itself, and productivity would be sabotaged in the process.
Mr. President, it was within the foundational philosophy of this noble Association to promote the study of Africa in Canada and the world. Over the years, CAAS has done so as a moral and ideological responsibility, thereby contributing to African-Canada relations. That philosophy has yielded substantial results and that we are here today to produce rounds of knowledge affirms the sanctity of this togetherness. When I contributed my tiny quota to your goals by way of once organizing a conference for you, giving two Keynote Addresses, serving on the Joel Gregory Book Prize, and evaluating manuscripts for your preeminent journal, I never knew that a day like this would come. I feel most humbled and grateful, and with limitless appreciation for the confidence you have reposed in me and an unalloyed dedication to honor your belief in me, I accept the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from CAAS.
Distinguished scholars and members of the audience, I am now in the circle of remarkable intellectuals whom you have acknowledged for similar outstanding contributions and performances in their various fields, and I feel the burden of greater responsibility on me. Of a truth, I am an individual culturally reified in a philosophical paradigm of the Yorùbá whose axiomatic saying “Yin’ni, yin’ni, kẹ́ni ó ṣe òmíràn,” which loosely translates as a repeated shower of gratitude is a clarion call to do more, or to whom much is given, much is expected. This has often placed on me the moral burden to expand whatever it is I am recognized for doing. I am aware that it is not within the moral circumference of any culture in the world to publicly award evil, and that presupposes that my contributions to knowledge, which have been recognized, are expected to be multiplied. By virtue of my age, such consistency may be conflicted by nature, but that does undermine the reality that the manifestation of knowledge contribution is fluid and flexible. This means that even if creating a network of knowledge transmission through my books, lectures, listservs, and workshops experiences would decline, age cannot take away from me mentorship to our coming generations of Africans, assisting the academic fledglings to grow, and providing a friendly atmosphere to intending academics.
Mr. President, if we have collectively learned anything from the beautiful development experienced recently as a human family, it would be that the place of knowledge cannot be overemphasized in transforming and sustaining human society. Although this understanding should not elude anyone, we should not be ignorant that knowledge production, distribution, use, and reformation can never be as innocent as we have been made to understand it. This deduction finds its strength in the fact that if it is true that knowledge production is devoid of strange politics, this distinguished body, the Canadian Association of African Studies, would not have been birthed in the first place. However, the awareness that knowledge engagements available in the diasporic environment, especially in Canada, are potentially hostile and hegemonic necessitated an association such as this. CAAS is irrevocably committed to the advancement and upsurge of knowledge so that the epistemic traditions and foundations of Africans here would escape the compromise that the environment proposes. We have both a moral and ideological responsibility to rescue African Studies epistemically because this place has a glistering history that must never be undermined―glistering because the strength and struggles of the displaced Indigenous people have produced stellar results that today’s reality of Africans here has drawn from. Essentially, you and I owe ourselves the right to develop and build a civilization that reflects our thinking.
Ladies and gentlemen, have you not established methodologies in developing and nurturing this Association with which information is sourced and education transferred? Have you failed to raise intellectually vibrant Africans leading in several areas of their careers with excellent and exceptional impact? Have you not created a healthy academic atmosphere where knowledge about critical issues related to Africa has been consistently shared? Mr. President, within the time of establishment, you have, as a collective, harmonized the ideas of outstanding contributors to this project to drive policies and services of immense significance to the various areas of existence. Through the persistent insistence of CAAS, the Canadian Journal of African Studies (CJAS) was created. Who among us here would deny the overwhelming contributions of the journal to African academics? Is it not a journal that provides the platform and motivation for academia who have showcased brilliance and excellence in their research engagements? Have you not also created an opportunity for government representatives, leaders, non-governmental organizations, activists, and non-state actors, among others, to draw on knowledge for policies that drive critical development?
Distinguished scholars, colleagues, and friends, you have, in good dispositions, facilitated the meteoric growth of intellectualism from the beginning of our engagement, and that tradition has continued regardless of different challenges, which your dedication has helped you to overcome. How else can we reiterate the importance of CAAS to the survival of the African identity in the diaspora environment if not through the enumeration of the great things you have done as a people and as an Association? CAAS has stood up for numerous Africans who have witnessed various forms of dreadful challenges because of the color of their skin. The Association has committed itself to issues of development within the Federation to emphasize how its members are concerned about rapid progress for the generality of Canadians. The number of conferences organized by CAAS continues to grow admirably, through which they offer fresh opportunities for scholars across the globe who have brilliant ideas to share with the world, especially by looking at issues from the lens of Africa and Africans. CAAS has always taken on fundamental matters that require urgent attention, and in the spirit of humanitarian compassion, you have executed projects that bring invaluable additions to the human world. That underscores your values as a people and your commitment to making meaningful changes in the global environment. You have enlarged our desire to promote ideas that would bring rapid changes to the human world through the programs, events, and platforms you have created within the time of your existence as an association for scholarship and human flourishing.
Mr. President, your decision to honor me with the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award is a form of affirmation by you and the members of the Association to ensure that individuals like me have a continued focus on enhancing a brighter future for the African diaspora. Although I am the recipient of that award, the inspiration it would encourage will not fall on my shoulders alone, for I am confident that those who are available here today will feel that sense of commitment and seriousness, as I do, to issues that would benefit Africa and the world generally. Therefore, this honor is for us all! I am inclined to think this way because I know that the human spirit wants to be triggered by the external motivation to perform the magic already wired in them or that they are naturally capable of.
The continually evolving world, ladies and gentlemen, demands that we also reposition ourselves and understand more deeply the sense of responsibility we owe the generations of Africans to come. We must not forget that it is important that we continue to interrogate ideas produced by our forebears, for they can be more relevant in the modern world than we imagine. Ideas are the result of human mental energy put to use in the course of refining the thoughts in the mind. All we need is to intensify our research trade and ensure that we introduce ideas for the benefit of humankind.
I am most grateful to you all for the well-intentioned recognition accorded to me, leading to this exemplary award. It is mind-blowing and, at the same time, humbling, to say the least. Africa will continue to find its footing, and we will never cease to take the world by surprise.