Greetings from Dakar.
The CODESRIA Executive Committee, during its 94th meeting held in April 2021, discussed the feasibility of holding the 16th General Assembly in 2021. Article 17 of the CODESRIA Charter mandates that the General Assembly “shall meet every three years.” By this provision, the 16th General Assembly should convene by end of December 2021.
The Committee discussed in detail the context of the pandemic. It considered the feasibility of convening the Assembly by whichever method, be it physical or virtual. The Committee accepted the Secretariat’s assessment that the complications occasioned by COVID-19 had severely hampered the planning process for the Assembly. This has also made impossible conclusive predictions as to when normalcy would resume sufficiently to make possible everything needed to successfully hold the Assembly.
The uncertainty that has characterised the pandemic across the world has several repercussions in this regard. Everywhere, governments have been forced to periodically review and limit travel across nations within short notice in response to sudden spikes in infection rates. Where governments allow for travel, there is real danger of such movement being suddenly interrupted by the imposition of entry and return restrictions including quarantine or enforced isolation. The Committee also noted the uneven access to vaccination that might inform the kind of travel and other restrictions states may impose in the next six months. This raises the possibilities of unforeseen travel disruption, as well as the very real health risks to members of the community should the Assembly be convened under the prevailing circumstances. The cost implications of any such occurrence would also be very prohibitive.
The Committee considered the option of a virtual Assembly. However, at a minimum, a CODESRIA General Assembly brings together over five hundred participants. The Council mounts up to fifteen parallel sessions on given days of the Assembly. In addition, the plenary sessions are conducted in at least three languages. The logistics of putting these panels on a virtual platform require extended investment and planning. Such planning includes synchronising the technologies involved. In a continent where availability and quality of technological infrastructure is uneven and often disrupted, and where what happens in one venue is not guaranteed to work on the other end, the process of going virtual will obviously be an exacting one indeed. Further, at the core of the Council is a commitment to develop a pan-African intellectual culture and consciousness. The Council does this by, among other things, promoting movement of academics across boundaries and networking them horizontally across the continent. A virtual meeting will require a trade-off of some of the most significant benefits of an Assembly.
Having deliberated on the options and considered these limitations, the Executive Committee recommends that the membership of CODESRIA endorse the postponement of the 16th General Assembly for a period of six months. The proposed new date for convening would be in June 2022, subject to periodic review of the evolution of the pandemic, the intervention to control it via vaccination, the effect on travel and the possibility of safely having participants together in physical meeting. On behalf of the Executive Committee, I write to urge members to endorse this postponement. Those with any objections or recommendations to the contrary can provide these in writing to firstname.lastname@example.org by 21st May 2021. A follow-up communication on this will be shared by 31st May 2021.
Dr. Godwin R. MURUNGA