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University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies Mourns Pius Adesanmi

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  • Prof. Adesanmi

By Abdul Moomen Muslim, Harriet Ofori, Paul Richardson

Department of Communication Studies, University of Ghana

“It is difficult to talk about Pius in the past tense,” says Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo of the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies (IAS) as she attempts to collect her thoughts. “I am still so distraught I can’t believe that Pius has passed.”

Professor Pius Adesanmi, a Nigerian-born Canadian scholar, died along with 156 other passengers and crew on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed shortly after take-off on March 10. The aircraft was bound for Nairobi, Kenya from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Adesanmi’s death has greatly saddened the global African Studies community and in particular the faculty and staff of  IAS, where he spent a year as a visiting scholar.

Adesanmi was a founding member and head of the African Studies Department in Carleton University, Canada. Despite his station in North America he was a man on the go, always updating his social media handles with his trips across Africa and around the world to contribute to African scholarship. In November 2018, Adomako Ampofo said she met him at a conference in Atlanta even though he was still recovering from a near fatal car accident in Ibadan, Nigeria where he had attended a conference.

She was first introduced to Adesanmi in 2011. As the then director of the IAS, Adomako-Ampofo was looking for someone to spearhead the process to create new courses on African thinkers for the Institute. Adesanmi came in highly recommended.

 “Pius and I had a conversation and I liked him immediately. We hadn’t even met,” says Adomako-Ampofo. “And from the moment we met we clicked, the chemistry was right. He was a formidable writer, scholar; just an amazing thinker committed to the continent. The program had a limited time of a semester but we all just fell in love with Pius and he stayed with us for a whole year through an extension we got for him.”

Adesanmi was a man of literature, a writer, a critic and a columnist. On Facebook and Twitter, where he had thousands of followers, he was always discussing, debating, and philosophizing on issues related to Africa, often with a dose of wit and humour.

His inaugural book, The Wayfarer and Other Poems, won the Association of Nigerian Authors' Poetry Prize in 2001. In 2010, he won the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing in non-fiction with his book, You’re not a Country, Africa.

Denji Abudullahi, president of the Association of Nigerian Authors described Adesanmi in a Facebook post as a “very cerebral, innovative, delightful and public-spirited intellectual who was at ease and profound in any discourse he handled or was involved in.”

Dr. Kojo Opoku Aidoo, a senior research fellow at the  IAS holds similar views on him.

“He was quite enthusiastic. A great scholar with a passionate disposition towards African Studies,” said Opoku Aidoo. “He was cast in the mould of Chinua Achebe – very brilliant, very intelligent, and very passionate.”

Opoku Aidoo was the first to shoot an email to his colleagues upon learning about the crash.

One of those who received the email was Prof.  Dzodzi Tsikata, director of the IAS. Tsikata recalls that she met Adesanmi for the first time in December 2018 in Dakar, though they had both heard about each other by reputation in the academic community. 

“He was very friendly. Clearly a confident and expansive human being who spoke to me as though we had known each other for a very long time,” said Tsikata. “This was a scholar at the prime of his life making important contributions to the field of African Studies.”

Tsikata notes that the courses Adesanmi helped to develop during his sabbatical with the IAS are still being taught and have come up strongly to be modified as part of the new offerings of the Institute.  She is sure the Institute will consider ways of honoring his legacy.

Adesanmi, restless about Africa, full of optimism, and at the prime of his career, died in service to the continent. His loss will be deeply felt.

A group photo of Prof. Adesanmi and Staff of IAS

L-R: Dr. Kwame Amoah Labi, Ms. Mavis Addotey, Prof. Pius Adesanmi, Prof. Akosua Adomako Ampofo and Emeritus Jacob Gordon