By Prof. Abdalla Uba Adamu
Frankfurt, Germany. 3rd July 2013
The German immigration officer looked at me and gave the usual clenched-mouth smile. I did the same. I am used to it. He flipped through my passport and then looked up.
“How many days are you staying THIS time.” Emphasis on THIS.
“Two days in Cologne”, I replied. “Today, tomorrow, and the day after that, I am off.”
He stamped the passport without asking for the usual – return ticket, invitation, hotel booking – all of which I had. He wished me a pleasant say and waved to the next person behind me.
I was then in Cologne to attend the valedictory retirement conference held in honour of the woman who mentored me and virtually adopted me as her son – Heike Behrend, who was retiring from the Institute of African Studies, University of Cologne, Germany, where she was the Director. She created the research category of “Media and Cultural Communication”, and I was the first African to be invited to deliver a lecture at the cluster. The Immigration Officer’s reference to the length of my stay was in response to the numerous times I had been to Germany – and never stayed beyond the time necessary for whatever it was that brought me.
The week from Tuesday, 30th May to Sunday, 4th June 2023, I returned after ten years. This time, the occasion was to attend ECAS2023: 9th European Conference on African Studies, with the theme of “African Futures.” It was hosted by the University of Cologne. “African Futures” explores the continent’s critical engagements with the past, present, and future of Africa’s global entanglements. ECAS is the largest and most visible single event under the AEGIS umbrella. AEGIS is an expression of a much wider and dynamic set of African Studies connections, collaborations, activities and opportunities within and beyond Europe. The conference, lasting four days, had over 70 panels involving hundreds of papers and speakers. All were efficiently coordinated through the various classes at the University of Cologne.
Earlier in the year, I and colleagues from Germany and US had submitted a panel, “Digital/social media and Afrophone literature”, for consideration at ECAS 9. It was accepted. The conveners were me (BUK), Uta Reuster-Jahn, Umma Aliyu (Hamburg) and Stephanie Bosch Santana (UCLA). Before submitting our panel to ECAS, we first held an online symposium which was preceded by a call for papers. Despite sending the CfP to various universities and the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), the response was pretty poor. The symposium was titled Social Media as New Canvas, Space and Channel for Afrophone Literatures. It was eventually held online at the University of Hamburg, Germany, on 22-23 February 2023. The participants then were from Germany (Uta Reuster-Jahn, Umma Aliyu Musa), Nigeria (Abdalla Uba Adamu, Zaynab Ango, Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino, Nura Ibrahim, Asabe Kabir Usman, Isyaku Bala Ibrahim), Tanzania (Hussein Issa Tuwa, Zamda Geuza), Ghana (Nikitta Dede Adjirakor), Stephen Ney (Canada), US (Stephanie Bosch Santana).
After the symposium, we submitted a panel for the ECAS 9th edition. Our panel was accepted, and all the participants of the online seminar were issued official letters of invitation to process their funding for the conference in Cologne in June 2023. As a panelist, I was fully funded to attend by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG). Umma and Uta were able to sponsor themselves from Hamburg. Unfortunately, only Nikita from Ghana was able to come from the others who could not get any funding. As a result, our panel, held on Wednesday, 31st May 2023, had only four speakers. It was déjà vu all over again – after almost 24 hours of flying and waiting at airports (Kano, Abuja, Doha), I was given only 20 minutes for the presentation.
My paper was “From Kano Market Literature to Kano Social Media Literature: The Reincarnation of an Afrophone Literary Genre.” The paper traces the trajectory of the genre from print media to its liberation in online media, with a specific focus on Facebook, Wattpad and APK files on Google Play. The paper uses netnographic methodology to harvest the dominance of and reaction to the newly reincarnated genre, which, far from being dead and buried, is more than ever before, alive and kicking in other spaces – beyond censorship or any form of criticism. In the process, the paper explores the freedom gained by the authors in unrestricted storylines that cross boundaries of identity, gender and alternative sexualities. The Journal of African Literature Association (curated by Taylor and Francis Group) has agreed to publish the papers of the Symposium in 2024. We will have to ask for more contributors.
Another dividend for me was that I was approached by a representative of Lexington Books in the US for the possibility of publishing my paper as part of a book on Hausa media cultures if I have something like that. As it happened, I have almost completed such a project titled “Hausa Cinema” (to complement Jonathan Haynes’s book, “Nollywood”) which was to be published by the Ohio University Press in 2010, but things went southwards! Now Lexington Books is providing an opportunity, and I am excited about it.
Our panel was lively, though, and I even met a fan! He was Jos Damen, Head of the Library and ICT Department of the African Studies Centre at the University of Leiden. While I was making my presentation, he took my picture with his phone and uploaded it to my Wikipedia page (itself created by another fan)! Later he told me I needed to have a picture there, and he took that responsibility. So it was kind of him!
The conference attendance was a fantastic homecoming for me because although Heike Behrend had retired back to Berlin, where she came from (and where I visited her in 2015 had a wonderful dinner when I was a guest of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin), Muhsin Ibrahim is now in the same institute. Both Muhsin and I were from Bayero University Kano. Muhsin was teaching Hausa at the Institute.
I first came to Cologne in 2004 – at the invitation of Heike Behrend when I met her in Kenya. At that time, I had an invitation to participate in an African Literatures project at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz. Heike asked me to reroute my itinerary to stop at Cologne, teach a Postgraduate class and give a public lecture. I did both on Monday 15th November 2004. Since then, I have almost lost count of the times I visited Germany – Berlin, Freiburg, Hamburg, Leipzig, and the wonderful Cologne with its incredible, massive and stupendous cathedral – the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. It was in Cologne in 2004 that the foundation of my ethnographic foray into critical media studies was laid. Unlike in Nigeria, where many saw me as an ‘interloper’ (as they murmur, ‘After all, he is a Biologist, isn’t he?’), here it is not what you study but what you can contribute to any discipline. I have been to Colone four times and other cities several times – all on the same mission of promoting Hausa media studies.
ECAS 2023 started wonderfully with Muhsin meeting me at the Koln Hauptbahnhof and helping me drag my luggage through various concourses to the trains that would take us to his flat: a very lovely well-furnished, and very spacious space. Upon arriving and freshening up, a massive mountain of uncharacteristically fat masa was waiting for me. Even the masa looks like a ‘Bajamushiya’! The soup alone could feed a family for a week! It was a truly delicious welcome. Once I got rid of the hunger, he took me to my hotel, IBIS Centrum.
Breakfast in the morning at the hotel saw a meeting of Who-is-Who in African studies – both diasporic Africans, home-based Africans and European and American researchers. It was indeed a wonderful gathering. In addition, I had a chance to reconnect with one of the most promising diasporic Hausa African Studies experts – Musa Ibrahim.
Musa is based in Ghana. He travelled there through South Africa and Japan, ending up in Bayreuth, Germany, where he obtained his doctorate. We met at Leipzig in 2018, and I collected his CV with the hope of getting him employed in our Information and Media Studies department, Bayero University Kano. However, the university was not interested. Before you knew it, he was grabbed by the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he spent about three years before getting another appointment at the University of Ghana. Such rich and varied experience would have been valuable to us in Kano, but the parochialism of our university system did not factor in multidisciplinarity.
The following day saw dinner at Muhsin’s house, and this time, Umma Aliyu, originally from Bauchi, joined us. Umma now lives and teaches in Germany at the University of Hamburg (after her studies at Leipzig). Like Muhsin, she also teaches Hausa at Hamburg, where she took over from Joe McIntyre (Malam Gambo), who retired some time ago. During dinner, we brainstormed the idea of two book projects – which, for me, was one of the significant takeaways from ECAS9.
Muhsin, Abdalla and Musa at ECAS9, Cologne
The first book project would be tentatively titled “Hausa Studies in European Diaspora: Experiences and Perspectives.” This will be a collection of chapters written by Hausawa living and working permanently in various European universities, either teaching Hausa or other disciplines. The objective is to demonstrate how internationalised Hausa scholarship is. We started with about five in Germany alone.
The second book project would be a post-Boko Haram narrative. So far, the Boko Haram literature has focused on the human disaster of the insurgency – virtually all books written were from the governance, security and disaster perspectives. Yet, much success has been and is being recorded in the war against terror in the form of surrenders, deradicalisation and reintegration. Yet, no one is looking at this. Using ethnographic field data, the book project will provide another side of the war on terror in Nigeria. We were excited and promised to work on various draft proposals before embarking on the works, which we hope will be completed by 2025.
The Conference’s overwhelming focus on the multidisciplinarity of African Studies was an eye-opener—no room or time for a narrow perspective on scholarship. No one cares about what your degrees are in – what matters is what you are bringing to the table NOW and how it impacts the knowledge economy of African societies and contribute to the decolonisation narrative.
For me, Cologne is a Return to Forever – the beginning of an endless loop of research and investigation.
My deepest thanks to Muhsin for being such an excellent, graceful host.