In March, the Council shared with the CODESRIA community a quarterly update from the Secretariat. That update came a few days before the lockdown following the rapid spread of COVID-19 virus. The Council subsequently issued a COVID-19 specific update outlining measures that remain in force and will continue to be until we have clarity from the Government of the Republic of Senegal on the way forward. Our actions will also be guided by developments elsewhere in the continent and our reading of the international context regarding mitigation and containment of the COVID-19 virus.
As a premier research institution, our responsibility is to be part of those defining the intellectual responses the continent needs to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. As part of our research work, we continue to observe and listen to emerging voices even as we analyse diverse professional views. We have however preferred caution and a broad based reflection in the knowledge that like other crises that have faced the continent before, this one will also require long-term structured thinking based on the gravity of the challenge the virus poses to development strategies on the continent in the short and, especially, long-term.
The cautious approach, informed by a consideration of longer term analysis of trends, is necessary given that several publicly cited models and opinions have been wild, based on unverified assumptions that occasionally are coupled by a narrow focus on epidemiology. While this focus is necessary and indeed defensible, the retreat into perceiving the virus strictly in medical terms is a dangerously narrow analytical tunnel that we, as social science and humanities scholars ought to assess and expand. As it has been pointed many times over, the capacity to deal with the pandemic depends on what we did before the pandemic; it depends on responses that view it as a socio-political and economic challenge rather than a strictly clinical problem. As such, there are broad governance and social policy questions COVID-19 has raised that the Council will start addressing, building our intervention on work the Council has undertaken before through the annual convening of the Institute on Health, Politics and Society in Africa.
In the previous quarterly update, we also focused on the challenges in the CODESRIA Publications’ Programme and the steps we were taking to resolve them. Admittedly, in 2019, due to challenges internal to the Secretariat, a new backlog of publications developed particularly with CODESRIA Bulletin, Africa Development, Journal of Higher Education in Africa and Africa Review of Books (ARB). Other publications like African Sociological Review (ASR) have continued to be up-to-date while Afrika Zamani and Identity, Culture and Politics: Afro-Asiatic Dialogue (ICP) already had an old backlog.
The Council is working with the editor of ASR to improve its quality. The backlog with Afrika Zamani has been resolved with the publication of the 2019 issue. Following discussions with the President of the Association of African Historians, the Council has handed back the management of the journal to the Association and committed, if requested, to continue supporting the journal and expanding it. The backlog with ICP will be resolved by July 2020 with the publication of vol. 20, Nos 1&2, 2019. Vol. 18 (2017) and vol. 19 (2018) have already been published. Further plans for ICP and ARB will be communicated at a later stage.
Rapid progress has been made to deal with the backlog for Africa Development and CODESRIA Bulletin. In July 2020, Africa Development, vol. 45, Nos 1 and 2 (2020) will be published bringing the journal up-to-date. A progress report on Journal for Higher Education in Africa will be shared in the next quarterly report, but work is in progress to publish No 1&2 of 2019 and peer review of articles for No 1 of 2020 has commenced.
CODESRIA Bulletin will go through some changes. This is following the rapid progress made to finalise the backlog left in 2019. The first 4 issues of the Bulletin are at an advanced stage of completion and will be released in quick succession in June 2020. The first issue discusses the controversies surrounding randomized control trials generated by the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, while Nos 2&3 is a special double issue with tributes to the late Thandika Mkandawire, CODESRIA’s third Executive Secretary. Issue No 4 is a special issue with essays on COVID-19.
Given the speed with which the Council has been able to finalise the backlog and simultaneously prepare the Bulletin for 2020, we are making two major changes in the way the Bulletin has been published.
Finally, with the forthcoming launch of a new CODESRIA website, it is time to take the Bulletin online and open it up for engagement by the community. We therefore will have a page on the website for CODESRIA Bulletin Online starting July 2020. The page will be dedicated to disseminating, within one week of submission, pieces submitted to the Bulletin for publication. A limited edition of excellent essays and debates from the online pages will be republished in hardcopy. The online page will also have a blog and space for commentaries from the community. The aim is to re-active the spirit of debate that animated the CODESRIA community.
Our plea to the community is to re-engage the Bulletin more intensely by sending in provocative think-pieces and providing reasoned commentary and rebuttals to published articles. We hope to recapture the spirit of debate and we will rely on you to make the new CODESRIA Bulletin a lively space for vibrant debate.
Godwin R. MURUNGA
1st June 2020