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Africa 2020: reflecting on 60 years of independence

In 1960, 17 countries on the African continent became independent. Sixty years later, the Africanists from Leiden University are reflecting on what independence has meant for Africa.

With so many countries gaining their independence within the space of a year, the end of the colonial era was only a matter of time. Now, 60 years later, the Africanists from Leiden University are joining their colleagues from Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam to reflect on what independence has meant for Africa. They are organising ‘Africa 2020,’ a year full of workshops, days devoted to particular countries, film evenings and two big conferences: one at the beginning and one at the end of the year.

Sixty years of independence

On 30 January, some of the world’s top researchers in their discipline will reflect on the current state of affairs in Africa at the conference Africa, 60 years of independence. And at the beginning of December 2020, 300 researchers from Africa, the Netherlands and other European countries will come to The Hague to talk about knowledge produced in and about Africa. The conference programme is being developed by universities and knowledge institutions from Africa and Europe.


Ton Dietz, former director of the African Studies Centre Leiden and Emeritus Professor of African Development, is one of the coordinators of Africa 2020. ‘The year 1960 is important not only because 17 countries became independent, but also if you look at the total percentage of the population of Africa that was living in an independent area: in 1959 that was only 30%, whereas at the end of 1960 it was already 68%. This marks a turning point in the self-confidence that Africa could make its own decisions.’


What does Dietz think are the results of 60 years of African independence? ‘Enormous population growth, through improvements in health, hygiene and education; the population grew from 287m in 1960 to 1.3b today,’ he says. ‘Independence has also brought economic growth, which has taken off since 1960. Life expectancy has increased too, from in the 40s then to in the 60s now. And participation in education has rocketed.’

Growing pains

The independence process has had its ups and downs. ‘The growing pains also brought many conflicts and problems,’ says Dietz. ‘What we now see is that young people in Africa with mobile phones are very well informed about the rest of the world, while they have little hope of structural improvement at home, such as a sustainable job and income.’

From the Nile and Morocco to Southern Africa

Africa 2020 will look not only at the 17 independent countries but also at Africa as a whole: the year will begin with a workshop for young researchers on law and governance in Africa. There will also be a workshop about water management in the countries along the Nile, a special Morocco day, a conference about deaf studies in Africa, coaching sessions for PhD candidates and Africa film evenings. The history of Southern Africa will also be explored in further detail.

The old coloniser

Ton Dietz has two wake-up calls for Europe, the old coloniser. First: ‘Education is exploding in Africa and knowledge levels are rising rapidly. Mark my words: Africa will be a continent of innovation.’ Second: ‘Europe, it’s finally time to decolonise. Move away from that unequal relationship with Africa towards one of co-creation. Be willing to accept that Europe is no longer Africa’s preferred partner.’

See the full Africa 2020 programme

Photographer: Dominic Chavez/World Bank

De Leiden African Studies Assembly

Since 2016, the Africanists from Leiden University have worked with colleagues from Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam at LeidenASA, the Leiden African Studies Assembly. Its Annual Meeting will be held on 12 December. Sean Jacobs, Associate Professor of International Relations at The New School (New York City) and founder of the blogsite Africa is a Country, will give the keynote lecture. Nsima Udo, winner of the Africa Thesis Award 2019, will give a presentation about his thesis about the history of Mbopo, an initiation ritual for girls in Southern Nigeria.

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