Kwesi Aikins

Ghanaian, West African and diasporan history and politics had been the focal points of my academic interest for years when I came to IAS for the second semester of 2005 with the desire to learn not just about, but in Ghana and West Africa, to be taught not just about, but by Ghanaians. Prior work experience with Ghanaian NGOs had brought me together with IAS alumni, whose dedication to advancing Ghanaian and African interests and whose praise for the critical perspectives taught at IAS inspired me to make the institute part of my programme at UG. Within weeks, I made sure IAS became the centre and pillar of my UG experience. Within months, I sought for an extension of my visiting graduate student programme to enable me to stay at IAS for a full year. The intense, yet inspiring classes, the interdisciplinary staff and student body, the strong African feminist perspective appealed to me, I was sure that I was not learning for a degree only, but indeed for life.

IAS staff enabled and empowered me to get involved with both academic and emancipatory advocacy projects beyond the classroom. I got the chance to contribute to setting up UGs Centre for Gender Studies and Advocacy (CEGENSA) with a team led by Prof Akosua Adomako Ampofo, the current Director of IAS. I implemented CEGENSA's website, designed the logo, did some grant application writing and contributed to crafting the Centre's first activities on campus. Being involved in an effort to empower women and men to reduce sexism was an avenue to practicalise some of the theories and analyses I was learning in IAS strong classes on Gender in Africa. At the same time, I was benefiting from challenging, but also empowering offers to collaborate with IAS staff. My first English-language academic publication, an article on "Co-wives" in the Oxford Women in World History Encyclopaedia (2007) was enabled by co-author Prof Takyiwaa Manuh, then head of IAS.

My time at IAS deepened and enriched not just my theoretical understanding, but my research and work experience in Ghana and was one of the motivations for me to pursue a PhD on the role of Ghana's indigenous authorities in "development". The contacts and friendships I had established with course mates and IAS staff contributed not just to my PhD fieldwork, but to ongoing efforts to harness social science research for advocacy and empowerment. My time at IAS was crucial in enabling me to pursue this ambition both in Ghana and in the diaspora. My most rewarding engagement in Ghana so far, the opportunity to serve as Associate researcher for the Ghana Constitution Review Commission in 2010 and 2011, has been both inspired and enabled by what I learned from and saw lived/exemplified by IAS students and staff.

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