By Irene Best Nyapendi
Fulbright Specialist Scholar, Dr. Afia S. Zakiya, is leading a team charged with establishing the Kodwo E. And E. Maxine Ankrah Center for African Diaspora at Uganda Christian University (UCU). The center, under the Directorate of Postgraduate Studies, will promote the study of the African Diaspora, defined as a population scattered across regions separate from the geographical place of origin.
“I am a daughter of Africa,” Zakiya says. “I am committed to the global liberation of African people and the rescue, restoration, and teaching of our history and culture.” Zakiya was born in Mississippi, with strong roots in the United States’ southern states where many people of African heritage were formerly enslaved.
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She highlights the necessity of African-centered knowledge and education in fields like Africana/Black and Diaspora studies, among other fields, to relay the story of people of African descent from an authentic, historical perspective.
“A request came from UCU to the Fulbright program for support to build the Ankrah Center for African Diaspora studies, along with other tasks, such as reviewing courses,” Zakiya says.
Forging a Path Towards a Vibrant African Diaspora Experience at UCU
The Ankrah Center, named after Professor E. Maxine Ankrah and the late Lay Canon Kodwo E. Ankrah, serves as a forum to bring persons of African descent together, fostering global connectivity. The Ankrahs worked actively with the Anglican Church in Uganda and taught at Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology and UCU. Ankrah’s desire was that Africa be reclaimed and that all Africans and the Diaspora one day be reconnected.
Dr. Zakiya envisions an evolution in which African minds are decolonized, resulting in the rediscovery of Africa’s history, culture, and interconnectivity.
She believes there is a need to confront the often-present degrading narrative about African humanity and experiences. The Ankrah Center wants to support endogenous knowledge creation strategies that are grounded in African worldviews, ancient and contemporary as they have evolved in the interest of African people.
“The Center will offer courses, seminars, exchange programs and create a network of partners in Africa and across the Diaspora, and the communities they serve, for UCU students to be involved in throughout the year,” Zakiya says.
She forecasts a Center that will elevate the study of African history, language and culture.
“It will be exciting for those who become involved with the Center to have the chance to have exchanges — physical and other ways — with those young and older, the elders of the family many don’t know, their lost brothers and sisters from the African Diaspora,” she says, adding that UCU’s African Diaspora studies will be the first of its kind in the country.
During her visit at UCU in July and August, Zakiya said she had a productive collaborative experience.
Zakiya’s pride in African heritage has its roots in her upbringing. She was inspired by her parents — John and Ida Smith — as well as some of the most talented African-centered scholars, activists, and Pan-Africanists.
“They instilled in me a sense of pride in being African and taught me not to feel like I come from an inferior race,” she said. “They inspired me to learn more about who we are as a people, and they instilled in me the need to contribute to the upliftment of our race with an African consciousness.”
Zakiya has lived and worked in over 22 African countries, is a former Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and Political Science and works in cultural heritage and ecology. She is eager to use her talents to support new and reclaimed indigenous knowledge for the Ankrah Center.
UCU is reviewing Zakiya’s report with an expected launch of the center in 2024.