African Studies conference discusses road forward

By Richard Hazboun
and Mike Fitzsimmons
January 9, 2023

PHILADELPHIA — Some 1,400 people, mostly from universities in the United States, Canada and some African countries, attended the African Studies Association conference here Nov. 17-19. They discussed the social and political crises produced by imperialist exploitation of the continent’s resources and people. This is exacerbated by the recent droughts in East Africa, floods and Islamist insurgents in West Africa. This was the first face-to-face ASA conference since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

Another common theme of the conference workshops was the combined foreign debt of African countries, which reaches into hundreds of billions of dollars; intensified pressure for repayment from the International Monetary Fund; rising inflation; and the weakening of these countries’ currencies against the U.S. dollar. Also discussed was the impact of Chinese investment in Africa. Many workshops were on the fight for women’s equality, including access to abortion. The war in Ukraine was addressed at a plenary session, with four panelists opposing Moscow’s invasion.

An attractive Pathfinder Press booth, staffed by volunteers from several cities in North America, attracted dozens of attendees. Over 160 books were sold.

The booth featured books on Africa, Cuba’s socialist revolution, and works of revolutionary working-class fighters, from Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky to Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Thomas Sankara and leaders of the Socialist Workers Party. The broad list of titles sold showed wide interest in global economic and social crises, attacks on constitutional rights in the U.S., Moscow’s war in Ukraine, the roots of women’s oppression, increasing labor resistance and more.

Fifty-one books by Thomas Sankara were sold, including: Thomas Sankara Speaks, Women’s Liberation and the African Freedom Struggle and We Are Heirs of the World’s Revolutions. More than 30 years since his assassination and the overthrow of the Burkina Faso Revolution, Sankara is central to debate on the way forward for toilers in Africa and worldwide. Thirty-six books on the fight for women’s emancipation were sold.

“One of the main reasons I attend the ASA conferences is to buy books and place them in the college library’s reserve section,” professor Godriver Odhiambo, from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, said. “I value Pathfinder books as primary sources which give the truth the West has buried.”

There were many conference participants familiar with Cuba’s role in helping Angola defeat South Africa’s invasion in the 1970s and ’80s, as well as the role of Cuban medical volunteers around the world. Sales of titles on the Cuban Revolution included Cuba and Angola: The War for Freedom; Red Zone: Cuba and the Battle Against Ebola in West Africa; and Cuba and Angola: Fighting for Africa’s Freedom and Our Own.

A bestseller was Pathfinder’s newest book, Labor, Nature, and the Evolution of Humanity. “Without knowing how our labor transforms nature, how it’s the motor force along humanity’s ongoing road, we can’t see beyond the class exploitation that warps every aspect of our social relations, ideas, and values,” the book explains. The title sold out.

Thirty-three participants signed up for more information. Some asked for visits by Pathfinder volunteers to discuss class adoptions and library acquisitions.