Kenyan historian, researcher and scholar Dr Godwin Murunga was this week appointed executive secretary of one of Africa’s premier research organisations.
The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria), which is headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, has since its establishment in 1973 remained at the cutting edge of knowledge production and dissemination throughout Africa.
Its facilitation and promotion of original research within the humanities and social sciences has seen the organisation voted globally as a leading think tank in research and creation of a pan-African platform where intellectuals work without barriers regarding language, country, age and gender.
Dr Murunga’s appointment as the seventh executive secretary, and the only Kenyan to hold such a position, has largely remained low-key and its significance for Kenya and the East African region overly muted. Whether this is by choice or design, it mirrors the low regard that news conveyors hold for the academia specifically and the research community generally.
Dr Murunga’s career and commitment to the service of Kenya’s two leading universities — Kenyatta and Nairobi — spans over two decades. Before this latest appointment, he had served as a lecturer of history at Kenyatta University for many years and a senior researcher at the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Development Studies.
Many people know Dr Murunga through his bold and incisive contributions through his Saturday Nation column. He has also served in key local and international leadership positions with exemplary success, notable among these as director of the African Leadership Centre in Nairobi and member of the executive council of Codesria for two consecutive terms.
His appointment is thus more of a homecoming. His publication track record speaks volumes about his vision and mission of the African academy. It is a vision also shared by the past leadership in Codesria and no doubt will continue to shape the intellectual and policy agenda of the organisation.
Dr Murunga’s service in the two leading Kenyan universities attests to his unswerving and relentless dedication to scholarship. Those familiar with his intellectual journey will appreciate his sheer hard work and determination in the pursuit of what is just and fair to all. A pan Africanist par-excellence.
Dr Murunga’s past bold confrontation with discourses around African nationalism, marginalisation and ‘recolonisation’ among others that were in vogue in the mid-1990s, and which manifested themselves in the rich but often bitter intellectual exchanges among leading African scholars such as Prof Archie Mafeje and Prof Ali Mazrui, provided enriching fodder for the vibrant lectures that were initiated at Kenyatta University.
It is this vibrancy, often sustained by the cutting edge debates in the powerful Codesria bulletins and exchanges at different institutes and forums in Dakar, that bred the scholarly tradition that Murunga now carries forward.
His personal and academic conviction speaks volumes about a humble but resolute man who has a clear resolve to spearhead the diverse African academy in spite of the myriad challenges confronting higher education in Africa. His record of robust scholarship around issues of immediate relevance to good governance in Africa has emboldened him into a social critic and civil rights advocate.
It is a position and conviction that has won Dr Murunga both friends and foes. More often than not, his uncompromising stance on what is fair and just and its destabilising effect on the powers that be has been a rare source of courage and inspiration to many. His elevation to the highest leadership position of Codesria thus comes as no surprise. He has the energy and steam to steer this organisation to the highest level.
In appointing Dr Murunga, therefore, a statement is being made not just about his personal struggles and convictions but indeed also about the country and its place within the African research community.
The writer teaches history at Kenyatta University.