Project Outline

Greetings from Project Representative

Motoji Matsuda
Project Representative

Upon the launch of African Potentials Phase Two

The aims of our research project are to elucidate African Potentials and develop a vision for solving real-life problems using them. But what exactly do we mean by “African Potentials”?

Contemporary African societies are confronting numerous problems and difficulties. These are approached on the basis of intellectual modes and structures that have, in almost all cases, been produced in European and American societies and constructed as the “global standard” through their global expansion over the course of history. Such approaches are undoubtedly effective and important intellectual assets for humankind. On the other hand, however, their orientation has tended to devalue problem-solving modes and structures developed within African and other non-Western societies, relegating them to “second-class” status or ignoring them completely. Naturally, African concepts and systems for solving problems have been continually re-created over the course of colonial rule, the Cold War system, and contemporary globalization, as they have encountered, clashed, engaged, blended, and bonded with differing concepts and systems. In that sense, they are contiguous with the society in which we live.

In our project we term these approaches “African Potentials,” and seek to elucidate them as remedies for problems not only in contemporary African society, but across human society as a whole. The spirit of our project lies not in the idea of “the world helping Africa,” but in “Africa saving the world.”

Over the five years from April, 2011 to March, 2016, we conducted a research project titled African Potentials for Conflict Resolution and Coexistence (led by Itaru Ohta; Among the outputs from this project were an English-language publication (Langaa RPCIG, 2015) and a five-volume series in Japanese titled African Potentials (Kyoto University Press, 2016).

In this phase one project, so to speak, we focused on building up the humble and imprecise concept of “African Potentials,” which was born out of field-based insights, into an analytical standpoint on African realities that could lead to practical remedies, especially the realization of conflict resolution and coexistence. The project proclaimed African Potentials as dynamic problem-solving capabilities created, practiced, managed, and synthesized as African societies engage and negotiate with the outside world, and as practical, effective approaches with which to overcome a variety of difficulties confronting African societies and transform conditions in those societies. Researchers from a variety of disciplines came together under this banner to work on field surveys, research, and discussion with one another.

African Potentials are not fixed, static objects; they are ever-dynamic, fluid processes. African Potentials envisage not uniformity but multi-dimensionality and conflation. An example can be found in approaches to conflict resolution. Our society takes an approach of “uniform, universal justice” for granted as a fundamental principle of modern civil society, but this assumption renders other, differing approaches to resolution inherently “incorrect.” In an African Potentials worldview, however, it is unrealistic to assert any one approach as absolute and all others as erroneous, or to forbid the intermingling of one approach with others. The idea of African Potentials endorses hybridization and blending of a variety of different elements, and it permits incompleteness. This means adopting a tolerant, open attitude to values and modes of thinking different from those of one’s own world. It is this conception of African Potentials that we developed over the five years of the phase one project.

For the second phase of the African Potentials project, we envisage three outcomes. The first is to expand its scope of application beyond the field of conflict addressed in phase one, and examine and assess its utility more broadly. To this end, we intend to expand the directions of our research to include development economics, politics, society and culture, natural environment, language and education, and gender and sexuality, and to explore the effectiveness (and limitations) thereof.

The second outcome is the strengthening and development of the African Potentials Forum fostered in phase one of the project. Held annually at a location in Africa, each forum is an opportunity for intellectual and practical communication, where the tasks of expression, operationalization, and theorization of African Potentials are undertaken jointly with African partner researchers, NGO practitioners, and representatives of government and international organizations. In phase one, forums were held in Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Cameroon and Ethiopia, forging strong bonds with principal African partners who endorsed and cooperated with our African Potentials approach. The African Potentials Forum will be further advanced in the second phase, with the aim of joint development of new knowledge by Japanese and African researchers and practitioners.

The final outcome that we envisage is the use of African Potentials as a medium for creation of closer partnerships among next generation researchers as well as established researchers in Japan and Africa. This will build sustainable networks for joint intellectual enterprise across Japan and Africa beyond the scope of the project itself, and sustain comprehensive area studies that look to the future of humankind.

We hope you will enjoy our project outputs such as the annual African Potentials Forum in Africa, symposia in Japan, and research publications.

Research Purposes

The aim of this research project is to change the conventional perception under which Africa was considered to be only an object of assistance and sympathy, or the source of supply of resources and a promising market, to make clear the potentials Africa has created for problem solving and development, and to examine comprehensively its possibilities to make great contributions for the entire world of the 21st century. Sub-Sahara Africa was praised as one of the engines of the world economic growth in the first decade of this century. However, on the other hand, difficulties such as widening disparity in the society, confrontation seemingly based on religion, race and ethnicity, environmental destruction are becoming even more serious. In order to deal with these difficulties, we will extract and conceptualize the dynamic coping ability of African society that has been ignored by conventional thoughts and ideas that have an intellectual origin in Western modernity, and will provide a perspective for problem solving by utilizing such potentials. With the help of such endeavor, we aim to show a creative articulative process of knowledge genesis to become the basis of the African potentials as another mode of knowledge of the humanities and social sciences originating from Africa, which will make it possible to understand and live the world in a different way.

Expected Research Achievements and Scientific Significance

By using “African potentials” as another intellectual and practical tool for problem resolution, we will achieve three goals. The first goal is to make a practical contribution to solve the problems such as conflict resolution and social reconciliation or environmental conservation. The second expected outcome of this project is to make a critical reconsideration of the dominant perspective to recognize Africa, which has been developed and prevailed for several centuries. The last goal is to formulate another mode of knowledge that Africa has created and recreated with entanglement of other elements/forces from the outside world. In this sense, “African potentials” will not be comprehended as a practical skill for problem solving. By formulating an “African potentials” in which the another way of thinking, knowing, imagining and doing are producing, different from those ways that originated in Western modernity and have monopolized a dominant position within humanities and social sciences until now, we will develop a new kind of humanities and social scientific knowledge, which will become an intellectual property for the future of human society.