Dr Roxana Willis and Dr James Angove, University of Oxford. – Written evidence (ZAF0018)


Recommendations for a Decolonial Approach to the AU-UK Partnership.


Executive Summary


  1. We are researchers and lecturers in the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford. Dr Roxana Willis is the Principal Investigator on the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Research Group at the University of Oxford. She worked alongside Barrister Mbinkar Caroline in Cameroon from 2009 until 2011 in the area of human rights law and joined the University of Oxford in 2011 to conduct an empirical piece of research on land rights in Cameroon. In 2019, Barrister Mbinkar and Dr Willis established a research team at the University of Oxford to investigate the civil conflict in Cameroon. Dr James Angove worked alongside Barrister Mbinkar and Dr Willis from 2010 to 2011, delivering a jurisprudence course to students from three local universities in North-West Cameroon. Dr Angove is currently a Lecturer in Moral and Political Philosophy and is a co-researcher on the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Research Group.


  1. This submission responds to the Joint Communiqué on the African Union-United Kingdom Partnership policy area to “promote and protect an equitable and inclusive rules-based international system”. In particular, we focus on the UK’s recognition and intention to support “the AU’s desire to find African solutions for African problems.” We further note that “[t]he two sides have agreed to invest in people and build opportunities to deliver a skilled workforce through shared work on education, science and technology and skills development to reap the benefits of increased stability and prosperity.”


  1. This submission benefits from our experience as recipients of the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, and ongoing institutional insights gleaned from the Rhodes Must Fall student movement at the University of Oxford.


  1. In order to “promote and protect an equitable and inclusive rules-based international system”, we offer four policy recommendations: 1) centring African thinking and scholarship in AU-UK policy research, reports, and initiatives; 2) meaningfully engaging with decolonial and postcolonial narratives; 3) developing educational and training opportunities for African students, including scholarships at UK Universities; 4) expanding the postcolonial education of UK civil servants, especially those working on the AU-UK partnership.


(1) Centring African thinking and scholarship in AU-UK policy research, reports, and initiatives.


  1. We hold it to be of paramount importance that insights from African and black philosophy inform future policy research and reports (e.g. C. L. R. James, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Charles Mills, Jemima Pierre, among many others). Consulting these sources in their wide variety of forms, including art, drama, poetry, and podcasts, will make much more likely that recommendations are on point. Likewise, we recommend that research finds room for so-called emic approaches: that is, accounts of issues which work within a web of meaning internal to the local culture. While it is of course necessary to abstract away from local perspectives in analysis, we recommend that nonetheless in the stage of forming an understanding of issues, as well as that of finding solutions, a local bedrock of understanding takes centre stage.


  1. In this pursuit, we deem it of special importance that the ideas of African collaborators are fully acknowledged, with their names and works cited in relevant reports. This is to avoid repeating a past trend in which ideas ultimately derived from black and African sources are used without due recognition. Policy recommendations going forward need crucially to be created truly in collaborative fashion and presented as such.


(2) Meaningfully engaging with decolonial and postcolonial narratives


  1. In December 2015, a student and staff movement began in South Africa, and through visiting Rhodes scholar Ntokozo Kwabe, arrived in the University of Oxford: Rhodes Must Fall. The movement nominally was a request to take down statues of Cecil Rhodes in different institutions, on account of his explicit racism and prominent role in the British colonising of other lands. However, the movement – both in South Africa and in Oxford – incorporated a wide range of concerns, anchored in the black experience of educational institutions. Accordingly, the movement brought to light structural and symbolic discrimination: embodied, yes, in statues, but prominent also in traditions, teaching culture, reading lists, assumptions made by staff and students, and more. The thrust of the movement was a demand to “decolonise” the educational institution by having an honest and visible appraisal of a colonial past, taking onboard the work of black and African scholars going forward.


  1. Although the Rhodes statue in Oxford’s Oriel College ultimately remains (unlike the University of Cape Town’s), the continuing movement has had a lasting ripple effect: there is now a burgeoning academic interest in coming to understand the legacies of empire within Oxford. For example, see https://global.history.ox.ac.uk/oxford-and-empire, and a concerted effort within the Faculties of English and History to decolonise the curriculum. In light of this new and important academic focus within institutional education, we recommend that as part of a commitment “to ensure that countries and individuals have the freedom, security, justice and mechanisms to prosper”, the Committee similarly opts to analyse issues through a postcolonial lens. That is, we recommend the Committee engages with postcolonial thinking in framing just what relevant issues of injustice or unfreedom amount to.


  1. Accordingly, this will involve interpreting many present problems as having an underlying colonial history, and a decolonial solution. There is a tendency to adopt ahistorical approaches to conflict; we recommend, by contrast, that the Committee allows for relevant parties and actors to explore and articulate the lasting legacy of colonialism. The avoidance of difficult discussions about the colonial past can stand in the way of finding key lessons to resolving conflicts going forward. Giving due weight to history in understanding conflict is recommended in our human rights report: https://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/publications/human-rights-abuses-in-the-cameroon-anglophone-crisis-a-submission-of-evidence-to-uk-parliament/


  1.                     We recommend that the Committee fully supports the AU Agenda 2063 policy, “Silencing the Guns by 2020”, which aims to end all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and prevent genocide on the African continent, including in Cameroon. The policy was preceded by important AU discussions, such as the forum jointly organised by the Office of the African Union (AU) High Representative for Silencing the Guns in Africa, the AU Department of Political Affairs, and the Office of the Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security. As Aissatou Hayatou remarked, “[Silencing the Guns] is not just about guns, it is about what drives people to resort to guns. We need to address those underlying issues” (https://au.int/en/pressreleases/20191128/silencing-guns-africa-feature-prominently-pan-african-parliaments-peace). In line with Hayatou’s statement of intent, and paragraphs (7)-(9) of this document, we recommend that in its support for Silencing the Guns, the Committee inspects frankly the underlying conditions which make conflicts in these regions possible.


(3) Developing educational and training opportunities for African students, including scholarships at UK Universities.


  1.                     In keeping with the Joint Communiqué on the African Union-United Kingdom Partnership priorities, we acknowledge the aims outlined in the AU Agenda 2063 to expand education and training, and the flagship projects of the AU Agenda 2063 to develop “an African virtual and e-university” alongside “the Encyclopaedia Africana”. We also appreciate that the AU Agenda 2063 is “rooted in Pan Africanism and African Renaissance”.


  1.                     We recommend that the Committee explore ways to support these priorities, taking as inspiration the model of the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund. In the aim to expand education and training, we advise that such a model collaborates with African scholars, both inside and outside the UK. Given the UK’s world-leading tertiary education sector, the Committee can consider ways to facilitate research, for example, through funds allocated for scholarships and grants for study and work (in both the UK and Africa), perhaps by encouraging institutions to adopt a model like the University of Oxford’s “AfOx” initiative (http://www.afox.ox.ac.uk/about/); through arranging for UK institutions to give access to archival databases; and through supporting archival research placements.


  1.                     The African virtual and e-university can be supported by developing an accessible podcast and electronic library which hosts archival and educational content. UK universities can be encouraged to support such a programme by the incentive of impact ratings within the Research Excellence Framework.


  1.                     We encourage the Committee to view such a project as part of an ongoing restitution project to return colonised knowledge sources. Indeed, the Encyclopaedia Africana project aims to “inform and set the records straight regarding the history, culture and contributions of African people throughout the world” (https://au.int/en/agenda2063/flagship-projects), and so we advise that the Committee be especially mindful of this aim.


(4) Expanding the postcolonial education of UK civil servants, especially those working on the AU-UK partnership.


  1.                     Colonial history is not taught as standard in UK schools, save for optional modules which do not treat the topic with the requisite depth. This gap has contributed to a limited awareness of the effects of the transatlantic slave trade, imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism for those schooled in the UK.


  1.                     We recommend investing in a commitment to understanding the true extent of British historical injuries, including an appreciation of the violence of slavery, “the scrabble for Africa”, colonial rule, the lasting harms of race science, and ongoing power imbalances. This commitment could partly be met via delivering a training programme of further education opportunities for individuals and groups working on the AU-UK partnership. The programme ought to educate about colonial history between African nations and the UK, and the lasting legacies of these relationships. It is our firm and informed conviction that a proper grasp of historical linkages is needed to understand many present-day problems. Expanding education of the civil service in this way will ensure relationships of equality and respect between AU and UK will flourish.


Received 15 January 2020