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A first for Kenya as scholar lands continental post

By Daniel Wesangula | Updated Sat, March 18th 2017 at 10:23 GMT +3
Godwin Murunga in his library at his Kahawa Sukari home last week. [PHOTO: EDWARD KIPLIMO/STANDARD]

Kenyan scholar Godwin Murunga has been appointed executive secretary of one of Africa’s leading research organisations. The appointment comes at a time when research, particularly in social sciences, seems to be shunned by Kenya’s institutions of higher learning.

A statement from the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) early in the week named the Kenyan as the seventh executive secretary of the organisation.

His appointment to the continental body comes at a time when social sciences are seen to be taking a back seat in the search for solutions for global problems.

While announcing the results of last year’s KCSE, Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i almost rubbished the social sciences, and instead urged candidates and teachers to focus more on the traditional core sciences.

Dr Murunga says this is a misconception that needs to be righted.
“Pure sciences do not function in a vacuum. It is the social sciences that are the bedrock of civilisations. For any society to progress, social sciences must be at the forefront,” he says.

Codesria was established in 1973. Its aim is to promote, facilitate and disseminate research (within the social sciences) throughout Africa and also to create a community in which members can work without language, country, age or gender barriers.

While Codesria is an active research organisation, it does not abstain from serving as a platform for political statements.

Best choice

Unlike many other organisations, it does not agree with the traditional division of Africa in the social sciences where North Africa is often more or less left out. Instead, it tries to equally represent the five regions in Africa (North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa).

And Murunga says he was the best choice to head the body headquartered in Dakar, Senegal.

“I understand the institution and have a good grasp on where it needs to go,” he says.

Modern day academics have long been accused of taking a back seat on matters development. Every so often, African academics pass up the opportunity to weigh in on matters affecting governance in their own countries.

For decades, he says, academics have given society and their students a raw deal and that they have been punching below their weight. “Society has a right to be harsh with us.”

The Kenyan scholar says his tenure will be marked by a reawakening of the social sciences across the continent and the reduction in relying too much on western academics to tell our stories.

“But for this to happen, African researchers must be proactive. We cannot sit back and complain. We have to earn our place at the table because we deserve it. Social scientists need to be in every major decision-making organ on the continent,” he says.

His tenure begins in three months time. Murunga is also a senior research fellow at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi. He holds a Bachelor of arts and a Master of arts from Kenyatta University and an MA and PhD in History from Northwestern University, Illinois, USA.