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Some thoughts about the relationship between The Nordic Africa Institute and the Danish research environment.
The outset for the following personal observations is my own experience as Danish Research Fellow at the Nordic Africa Institute during a three year period ending 2002. This position in the group of Nordic researchers is one of the areas of cooperation (and also to some extend for disagreement) and a good observation post.
On the position as Danish Research Fellow in the group of Nordic Researchers:
It was on the whole a very satisfying experience, which gave me opportunities for getting much deeper into my field of research and made possible interesting periods of fieldwork. It gave opportunities for conference participation, and for partaking in all kinds of exiting discussions. And it made it achievable for me to build an extensive network to researchers in my field all over the world.
In my case most time was spend on the following work tasks:
Implementation of main research project on South African historiography.
Secondary research on higher education in
Establishment of research networks in Scandinavia, Southern Africa,
Organising an international conference around the field of research.
Organising a group at NAIs Africa Days.
Several lectures, seminars, briefings and conference papers given in
Ratings of applications for study and travel scholarships.
Guidance of scholarship students.
Participation in planning of research and information work at the institute.
I also used some time extending my annotated research databases, and I was member of researcher recruitment committees. During my stay, I made different kind of briefings, of which the preparation of the travel of the Swedish minister of education to
The work of the Nordic researchers with the scholarship students was quite time consuming, even if it was frequently also an uplifting experience, and I can ascertain that the Danish students’ stay at NAI has been important for many of them, who have kept contact with me later on.
Even if it is my impression that NAI actually tried to limit my non-research workload (maybe partly because I, as a non-Swede, was seen as less useful for policy making activities), the whole setup is quite binding and involving.
Seen in the rear-view mirror, I must realize that 3 years was not quit time enough, in my case at least, to realise all the plans I brought with me to NAI.
Several of the conference papers, which I made at NAI, still have to be transformed into articles. I had the opportunity to get most parts of my book manuscript on South African historiography translated into English, but I have not yet delivered the finished manuscript for print. I had the chance for arranging an international conference on South African historiography, but I did not have the time for the follow up work and conference publications. I have a feeling of not having used enough time in the NAI library and I will probably have to come back some time in the future just for that purpose.
All in all I think that 3 years is a bit on the low side to realize a major research project, if the results really are to be visible. These problems might to a large degree be caused by my own work-stile and external obligations. However, I also have to note that the work frames and the surroundings that NAI provides, while indeed very impressive and convincing, are also rather absorbing and obligating.
My stay at NAI brought me together with some very good colleagues and I had many exiting adventures out in the physical surroundings in
As the time vent by, to some degree I even learned to appreciate some of the things in
The scepticism, which I expressed now and then to the work of the institution (my first work task was actually to criticise the budget of NAI at the yearly staff planning day), was met with patient tolerance, but it never had any results or consequences in any direction.
The almost total control over own research was very satisfying, but outside the Research Group meetings, influence was extremely limited (despite the obligated weekly Wednesday morning staff meetings and the high profiled Planning Day) and the openness often appeared more postulated than real.
On the question of co-operation:
The cooperation between NAI and Danish institutions has not always been unproblematic and it is an ungrateful task to map the tensions, but it might be necessary in order to rise above them. The following is of course just my own preliminary thoughts.
It seems to me that there are a number of more or less objective factors which have from time to time contributed to a less than optimal atmosphere between the institutions of the two countries.
Danish students and researchers simply place less weight on having a Nordic orientation than their colleagues in the other Nordic countries. They have relatively good possibilities for fieldwork in
Ordinary competition between NAI and especially
The fact that NAI does not belong under the Nordic Council but resides more directly under a foreign ministry agreement might make it more suitable for policy making activities. It also secures the Swedish financial and political dominance. In the area of policy making activities NAI is not a genuine Nordic institution. Sadly enough, it would on the other hand not have such a high profile and generous funding, if it was purely a research institution.
A situation with shifting forms of national competition between
Something could be done to better the concrete situation, however. It is hardly a secret that the Danish partners like the purely academic side of NAI better than its applied political studies and dissemination, information and publication activities (since the Danish Foreign Ministry can not use these in the same way as the Swedish UD can).
One way of limiting the political considerations would be to strengthen the academic side of NAIs activities relatively.
The practise at NAI having Research Unit Meetings every two weeks was a helpful step in this direction. It gives a constant backing from the Research Group to the Research Director and thereby strengthens his position towards other, non-academic, interests. At the same time it keeps the process around a full fledged Research Strategy alive.
So, to strengthen research relatively could have wider implications. The Research Group has the strongest element of non-Swedishness at NAI. A strong profile here would strengthen Nordicness and internationalism.
It has been a big step forward in this connection that there are now three Danish researchers at NAI.
Another possibility, which could strengthen the Nordicness of NAI, is researchers associated with NAI or NAI-researchers placed outside NAI. The idea of NAI-financed researchers in other Nordic countries than
On the Nordic governments’ competitive use of solidarity history:
A specific case of some annoyance within my own area of research interest has been the highly profiled project concerned with historical documentation of solidarity between the specific Nordic countries and
In situations when the level of aid for
Despite that both
Trade delegations form Nordic countries headed by cabinet ministers and royalties repeatedly visited
It is an intriguing question, to which extent the more convincing documentation of
But there were also differences in the way in which history was used. In the possibilities, in the levels of consciousness, and in the resources allocated for the purpose. The Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala was used as base for the coordination of an extensive programme which intended to document solidarity with the whole of Southern Africa as it developed in each of the Nordic countries. The contributions from each individual country were funded by its foreign ministry, but
The result of the Norwegian part of the project was a good quality anthology edited by the experienced Africanist
The Danish contribution was limited in size and scope with its main emphasis on source critical analysis of foreign ministry archives, while the strong Danish NGOs got less attention. Danish voices later expressed the suspicion that the coordinator had not been directly unsatisfied with the rather low Danish profile. The fact is probably that there from the beginning was a certain Danish animosity or carelessness towards a project which partly consisted of the history of popular movements’ oppositional achievements.
The more concurrent consent between NGOs and foreign affairs department gave the Swedes a better hand. The qualified and hard-working Swedish coordinator of the overall programme was financed favourably through several years under which he focused mostly and with good workmanship on writing three quantitatively strong volumes plus collecting a massive archive material for the Swedish side.
It has been said that NAI in this connection mostly functioned as a policy making centre for the Swedish development agency SIDA. The departmental intrigues which surround this case will probably remain a mystery, but the Danish frustration of being taken hostage in a joint Nordic institution, which they were unable to use in the same way as the Swedish part could was clearly expressed at the programme’s conference at Robben Island.
At the conclusion of the programme and the publication of the last Swedish volume (but before publication of the Danish contribution) the coordinator was conferred two (well deserved) medals and sent on a dissemination tour for the book series through the whole of Southern Africa before his appointment to a position at the Swedish embassy in
In October 2003 the results of the project were used again at a conference on Swedish solidarity history organised by NAI, the Olof Palme International Centre and Swedish trade unions among others. The Swedish aid minister and the deputy secretary general of the ANC attended, and so did
Danish exporters might want to sponsor Danish solidarity history in the future.
Irony aside, my point is simply that all parties must learn to respect the creation of equal possibilities during every part of the cooperation process. Researchers might do a better job in this matter than foreign ministry stakeholders.