Revitalizing Anthropology in East Africa: The Birth of EAAA

  • Mwenda Ntarangwi


East Africa is known the world over for its extensive contribution to the history of humankind especially through the work of paleontologists and other archaeologists. Yet if one asked an average East African what anthropology is one is likely to be told that it is something to do with looking at old bones or one will have no clue all together. Such responses are instructive of the way anthropology and anthropologists have operated in East Africa specifically and Africa generally. First, anthropology as a discipline is another of the Western social science disciplines that entered the region through the main channel of colonialism. It indeed, reflects a kind of duality that is most likely to have schizophrenic adherents given both the British and American influences. The former which was a major player in the development of East African social sciences as colonizer adheres to a brand of anthropology that clearly separates the discipline into archaeology (which is often seen as a unit of history) while the latter which has become a major player in world scholarship because of its increased economic and political power favors a discipline that combines anthropology into the four fields of linguistic, cultural, physical, and archaeological anthropology. Thus one is able to find an American trained anthropologist in the University of Dar es Salaam unable to use his full anthropological training because he is in an archaeology unit that was structured to augment the work of historians. Second, anthropology has had its share of bad press in Africa for many years because of its association with colonialism although the same critiques have not been extended to other disciplines that are equally guilty of promoting Western superiority over Africa. This led to many anthropologists being unable to assert themselves in their own institutions where no specific departments of anthropology were present and also because of fear of being ridiculed as products of a colonial discipline. But things have changed in the recent past and anthropology has started becoming a respected discipline in the region. Indeed, many government offices, tertiary institutions, and NGO's have realized the critical role that anthropology can play in the social, political, and economic understanding and development of our communities. Inarguably anthropology is the only discipline that can boast of a structure and history of studying and understanding the entirety of human existence which is incredibly critical in Africa todaya continent that continues to be seen as a gone case in matters of global concern. It is the realization of this critical role that anthropology can and will continue to play in Africa that a professional association that would bring together anthropologists in East Africa was deemed necessary. Having returned in the late 90's from the US armed with a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology I was keen on making a major contribution to the discipline in East Africa but was not sure if there were many other anthropologists who had the same passion for the discipline as I had. I guess much of it had to do with the freshness of my training as well as the relevance I saw for the discipline in explaining and understanding some the socio-cultural issues that were current in Kenya at that time. This passion translated into the birth of the East African Anthropological Association (EAAA) in Nairobi mid 2001.

(African Anthropologist: 2002 9(1): 60-65)

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1024-0969