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ASA Board of Directors Statement on Academic Freedom and Stella Nyanzi

The ASA wishes to express its concern regarding the growing threats to academic and press freedom not only in the US but abroad. Over the past several years, scholars and journalists have been harassed, attacked, arrested, and subject to imprisonment, often on dubious grounds. As one of the key academic and professional associations promoting the dissemination of knowledge about Africa, the African Studies Association re-affirms its commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of speech. It would like to note its particular concern about our former Presidential Fellow and member of the ASA, Dr. Stella Nyanzi, of Uganda, who is currently being held in a maximum security prison on charges that she insulted the President of Uganda. The following letter to the President of Uganda addresses the particulars of her case.



15 April 2017
 
 
To H.E. the President of Uganda, Yoweri K. Museveni
 
Thru:
The Minister of Education and Sports, Hon. Janet Museveni
The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Kahinda Otafire
 
We write on behalf of the African Studies Association, a scholarly organisation composed of over 2,000 university academics based in the United States, Europe and Africa. As an Association, we work to ‘promote conditions of free inquiry and the principles and public understanding of academic freedom’.
 
The ASA is concerned about the detention of Makerere scholar Stella Nyanzi, who is being held on remand  on charges of ‘cyber harassment’, for disturbing the ‘peace, quiet or right to privacy’ of the President, and for ‘obscene and indecent’ speech. Dr. Nyanzi was a 2013 Presidential Fellow of this Association.
 
Provocative speech has a long, distinguished, and inspirational history in Uganda’s public life. In 1945 and again in 1949 Uganda’s earliest nationalists—among them the trade unionist Ignatius Musazi and the provocateur Semakula Mutumba—criticised British colonial government in extremely intemperate language. Their criticisms helped to inspire Ugandan commoners to challenge the autocratic officials who governed them. In 1953 through 1955 the newspaperman Jolly Joe Kiwanuka published a number of offensive editorials criticising the British government for sending Kabaka Frederick Mutesa into exile. His campaign helped to inspire Ganda people to boycott European business, and pressured the British government to agree to Mutesa’s return. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the demagogue Augustine Kamya mobilised tens of thousands of urban commoners with his loud, aggressive speeches against the monopolies that controlled Uganda’s economy. The movement he inspired helped to promote African ownership of Uganda’s businesses. In the late 1960s the journalists Rajat Neogy and Abubakar Mayanja were imprisoned for authoring cutting critiques of the Milton Obote government in the magazine Transition. And in the early 1980s a young activist named Yoweri Museveni campaigned against the brutalities of Milton Obote’s second government in a series of provocative circular letters.
 
To their critics, men like Kiwanuka, Kamya and Neogy were rabble-rousers, inciting discontent and insulting their social betters. From our retrospective vantage point we can see them differently. Their language, though deemed offensive by some, helped to clarify injustices, called attention to wrongs, and challenged ordinary people to invest themselves in the betterment of political life. 
 
Dr. Nyanzi’s posts on Facebook and other media stand in this same tradition. They may be considered by many as intemperate and objectionable. But we urge you to rise above the fray and to respond, not by imprisoning Dr. Nyanzi, but by taking the substance of her argument seriously. Democracies function best when leaders of public opinion are given space and opportunity to express discontent. Free expression of opinion can sometimes be offensive. But—as Uganda’s own history shows—it is by free expression that a more just and more open society can be established.
 
We urge you therefore to direct the Minister of Justice to drop charges against Dr. Nyanzi and restore her to liberty. We urge you, furthermore, to reiterate your support for the exercise of academic freedom at Makerere University and at other institutions of higher learning in Uganda.
 
The Board of Directors
African Studies Association

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Vote in the 2017 ASA Board of Directors Election

Don't forget to vote in the 2017 ASA Board of Directors  Election!

You may vote in the 2017 election by going to the ASA online voting portal and entering your automatically generated elector ID and password.

All current ASA members have received this information via email. If you believe you are a current member but did not receive an automated email, please be sure to check your junk and spam mailbox before contacting the ASA at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Candidate statements for all candidates can be found on the online ballot, by clicking the "view details" link next to each candidate's name.

Only current members are eligible to vote in the elections, which will close at 11:59 pm ET on May 15. If you are not currently a member, you must register before you will receive your voter identification. You can register for membership online through the myASA member portal. After your membership is processed, your voter identification and further instructions will be sent via email. If you have any questions, please contact the ASA at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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ASA Annual Meeting Podcast Series Now Available!

The African Studies Association partnered with the Africa Past and Present podcast of Michigan State University at the 59th Annual Meeting of the ASA to launch a podcast series from the conference. The series includes “drop in” conversations, which were modeled to mimic the spur of the moment conversations and debates that happen in the hallways of the Annual Meeting, as well as more in depth interviews with keynote speakers and other ASA members. Africa Past and Present is hosted by Peter Alegi and Peter Limb, both of Michigan State University, and is produced by Mike Green, Director of the Matrix Digital Media Lab at Michigan State University. You can find the complete archive of recorded sessions here.

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Reminder: Submit nominations for our 2017 awards today!

The African Studies Association is pleased to announce that we are accepting nominations for the following awards and prizes in 2017:
 

The Melville J. Herskovits Prize is awarded to the author of the most important scholarly work in African studies published in English during the preceding year. Deadline for nominations: April 30. Please note – Nomination letters must be received by the Secretariat by April 30 and all review copies of the publications need to be post-marked by the same date.
 
The Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize is awarded to the author of the best book on East African Studies published in the previous calendar year. Deadline for nominations: April 30. Please note – Nomination letters must be received by the Secretariat by April 30 and all review copies of the publications need to be post-marked by the same date.
 
The Distinguished Africanist Award recognizes a lifetime of distinguished contributions to African studies. Deadline for nominations: April 30.
 
The Graduate Student Paper Prize is awarded to the best graduate student paper presented at the previous year's Annual Meeting. Deadline for nominations: April 30.
 
The Paul Hair Prize recognizes the best critical edition or translation into English of primary source materials on Africa published during the preceding two years. Deadline for nominations: April 30.
 
The Gretchen Walsh Book Donation Award offers an annual grant program to assist book donation projects with shipping costs to send books to African libraries and schools. Deadline for nominations: April 30.
 
The Royal Air Maroc-ASA Student Travel Award is granted to students to facilitate and increase the movement of students and the exchange of ideas, between students of African Studies in Africa and the United States. The overarching aim of the award is to acknowledge outstanding scholarship by future African Studies scholars. Deadline for nominations: April 30.

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ASA Statement on the Proposed Federal Budget Cuts

The African Studies Association joins other scholarly associations in expressing its opposition to the federal budget cuts proposed in the President's recent 2018 Budget Blueprint. The elimination or reduction of federal funding for international educational programs, the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and USAID directly and indirectly affect research and teaching by scholars of Africa. These programs are vital to fostering cross-cultural understanding, gaining and sharing knowledge, and forming academic partnerships. The ASA wishes to express its support for generous federal funding for the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts.

Members of the ASA can help the association to shape the upcoming debate on the federal budget by contacting their members of Congress to voice their concerns about these proposed cuts. Several advocacy coalitions to which the ASA belongs have prepared guidelines for lobbying Congress. These can be accessed by going to the websites of the National Humanities Alliance or the Consortium of Social Science Associations.

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Member Aid For Africa
African Studies Association is a participating member of Aid for Africa, a unique partnership of nonprofit organizations serving families and communities throughout Africa.
African Studies Association
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