ROAPE Workshops: Structural Transformation in Africa

Editorial Working Group

The Review of African Political Economy (with the support of the Journal of Southern African Studies) is convening a series of three workshops in Africa in the 2017-18 period to explore Structural Transformations in Africa today: interventions from the Left. The workshops will help link analysis and activism in contemporary Africa from the perspective of radical political economy; consider whether a new politics is emerging from sites of contestation in Africa and reflect on lessons which might be drawn for the continent from revolutionary historical transitions. The workshops will include analysis of state formation following popular uprisings; the opportunity for socio-economic transformation and the frequent betrayals of revolutionary promise.  There will be an examination for example of continuity and change between colonial and post-colonial development in Africa, and in the year of the Bolshevik revolutions centenary opportunity to revisit the Soviet Union’s dealings with Africa and potential for revolutionary action and international solidarity in the 21st century. Each workshop will be organised around the themes of structural transformation and will be looked at through three linked topics of: (i) Economic strategy and industrialisation; (ii) Africa in a neoliberal world; and (iii) Resistance and social movements in Africa. All three topics will be examined in all three workshops but there will also be a local focus at each meeting after an initial recap on the overall themes.  There will be one key note speaker for each meeting and one speaker to summarise and provide context for the meetings ensuring continuity from previous meeting and rationale for each meeting. The first part of first the day of each workshop will be on this common theme ensuring continuity and connectivity with the previous meeting.  The rest of the time in each workshop will relate general themes to local circumstances and conditions and in doing so will bring together key speakers from Africa and Europe, combined with a call for local contributions and interventions. The three interlinked workshops each of two days will take place in Ghana (November 2017), Tanzania (April 2018) and South Africa (September 2018). We plan to have about 50 participants at each meeting; and three/four sessions for each workshop day.

The historical context of the initiative include: the centenary of the Russian Revolution (that indicated the need for a cool and critical appraisal of its betrayal of revolutionary promise, the state-sponsored models it delivered of industrialisation and economic development and its interventions in Africa); 50 years since the Arusha Declaration in Tanzania; 60 years since independence, reassessing the legacy of ujamaa and so on. These anniversaries are all acknowledged within the remit of our conference themes and questions.

The aspiration of the workshop series idea is also to reaffirm ROAPE’s political and intellectual project and to return it to its base in Africa by way of direct engagement on the ground; to decentralise its activist agenda and promote outreach in Africa; to create and recreate networks of debate and solidarity; to link critical theory with practice and the potential for popular resistance; and to imagine a new vision of development.

The meeting in Ghana will detail analysis on economic strategy and industrialisation. This debate will take note of the example and character of Soviet industrialisation compared to the puny efforts to date in Africa. The meeting will discuss the history and consequences of industrial strategy in Africa as well as possible development options for industrial and non-industrial struggles for alternatives to existing globalisation.  What is the discussion regarding alternative strategies for trade and aid, investment and relations between agriculture, industry and services in Africa? And what are the important debates about labour and employment opportunities with a re-evaluation of neo-liberal African development and the emergence of capitalist social relations and challenges to them?

The Dar es Salaam meeting will recap debates form the previous meeting and detail local responses and strategies that have critiqued the promise of decolonisation.  Africa remains a dependent cog in the globalising logic of world capitalism and one intention of this meeting is to explore the neoliberal environment in which Africa has been situated and the limitations this poses to alternative futures.  We will explore the dynamics of contemporary imperialism, trade and aid, and interrogate national, local and pan-Africa responses to modern day relations between the continent and northern and BRIC actors. What has been the impact of the dramatic ‘entrance’ of Chinese capital onto the continent, and subsequent debate about a role for the BRICS,  financialisation, the 2008 crash and strategy employed by the international financial institutions to reform  global financial and trade architecture?  African responses to the challenges of the post 2008 crisis for analysis include migration, regionalism and pan African and national strategies.

In South Africa, we will recap themes from previous meetings. The discussion then centres on resistance and social movements and will examine how neoliberal reconfiguring of African economies does not go without ‘kickback’.  Protest and social movements abound, but we need to assess their nature and prospects and consider which social forces they might consolidate.  Documentation of African struggles for justice and development can help reflection on trade union action and informal organisations in urban and rural settings. The meeting can explore the reasons behind protest, whether it is enough to see a link between spikes in food prices and protest or whether and to what extent other political, social and economic issue drive resistance to neo-liberalism. What are the dynamics of protest, the contributing factors that lead to full-scale (and occasionally ‘insurrectionary’) challenges to state power on the one hand and demobilisation and disintegration of popular protest on the other? What sort of viable, counter-hegemonic politics, is emerging, or could emerge, on the continent to challenge neoliberal and elite monopolisation of political and economic power? This workshop will focus not only on South African case-studies but other cases of African resistance. Activists and social movements are at the forefront of political and economic struggles from both rural and urban settings and the inter-relationships between these two spatial locations will also be explored.

Workshop format, organisation and speakers

Each workshop will include a group of local activists and scholars that are a key part of the gathering. This will be supplemented by elements of a core group from RoAPE which includes: Ray Bush, Janet Bujra, Peter Dwyer, Peter Lawrence, Gabrielle Lynch, Jörg Wiegratz, and Leo Zeilig. In Accra for the meeting in November 2017 the convenors are Third World Network (contact Yao Graham), in Dar es Salaam for the April 2018 the local organisers (contact Issa Shivji) and in Johannesburg for the the local organisers are The Society, Work and Development Institute, at Witwatersrand University (contact Karl von Holdt) and the Social Change Research Unit, at the University of Johannesburg (contact Peter Alexander)..Local organisers are also tasked with organising local venue, accommodation and other arrangements.  Additional key participants may also lead discussion in the workshops; already confirmed for this capacity are: Ben Fine., Samir Amin, Sarah Bracking,  Bayo Olukoshi, Yao Graham, Dzodzi Tsikata, Trevor Ngwane, Issa Shivji, Raymond Sango, Tafadwa Choto, Thandika Mkandawire, Jayati Ghosh, Tetteh Homeku, Omar Gueye, Chambi Chachage, Munyaradzi Gwisai, Qondi Moyo, Rudi Dicks, Hameeda Deedat, Hilma Shindondola-Mote, Femi Aborisade, Moussa Demba, Baba Aye, Amani Mhinda, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Munyaradzi Gwisai, Ali Kadri, Max Ajl.

Keynote speakers: Currently we have Samir Amin, Ben Fine, Munyaradzi Gwisai and Sarah Bracking. Yao Graham will speak at all three workshops. Issa Shivji will be a key speaker in Dar. Peter Alexander and Karl von Holdt in South Africa are taking charge of the workshop in September 2018. For the workshops in Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg we can confirm the attendance of Tafadzwa Choto, Dzodzi Tsikata, Baba Aye and Ambreena Manji.

Funding is extremely limited, but if you are interested in finding out more about these workshops, or attending please contact:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.