The SAIS African Studies Program holds conferences each year that bring together international scholars, policy analysts, and the SAIS community to exchange perspectives on important themes in African affairs.  For several years the conference focused on the political economy of selected African nations, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Ghana, Botswana, and South Africa. Conference themes in recent years have included: Africa’s New Era of Economic Growth; Elections and Democracy in Africa; Religion and Politics in Africa; Social Media and Political Participation; Regional Organizations and Africa’s External Relations; Kenya at Fifity; Governance and Security in the Sahel; The Politics of Economic Growth and Social Inclusion; and Reframing South Africa: Thinking About Transformation.

The annual conferences have regularly produced books on crucial topics in African studies, as well as monographs on several African countries.

Since 2001, The Great Lakes Policy Forum (formerly the International Watch on Zaire), a collaborative effort of the Search for Common Ground, the Council on Foreign Relations, Refugees International, and the SAIS African Studies Program, meets monthly and features guest speakers discussing topics such as human rights, the military, political transition, and U.S. foreign policy in the Great Lakes region. The Forum is committed to focusing attention on this conflict-torn and often neglected region of Africa.

Strategies for Economic Reconstruction in the Northern States of Nigeria
April 7th and 8th, 2016
Bernstein-Offit Building, Conference Center (5th Floor)
1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036

The nineteen northern states of Nigeria constitute 73 percent of Nigeria’s territory, nearly 60 percent of its population, currently exceeding 100 million people. In less than 34 years (2050), however, the UN predicts that the northern states will contain over 240 million, overwhelmingly youthful, residents. Comparatively, the scale of the northern dependency burden not only frames their demographic crisis, and condemns these states to remain at the bottom of Nigeria’s development indices, but the resulting regional differences generate polarizing tensions that potentially threaten the human security of all Nigerians. Besides demography, key challenges include: environmental degradation, widespread poverty, declining per capita incomes, fragile infrastructures, low education standards, endemic violence, economic stagnation, local governance failures, and rising youth unemployment. The Conference agenda confronts these daunting challenges directly by asking: How can northerners join with fellow Nigerians to mobilize their natural, organizational, financial, and human resources so as to recruit productive investments in employment-generating industries? True, productive investments are the key to employment. But increasing industrial productivity invariably requires the reallocation and concentration of scarce resources like capital, land and water. Conference participants, therefore are committed to pursuing realistic and candid conversations about how new public-private collaborations will deliver employment and dignified livelihoods to northern youth. This event is merely the first of many conversations about these policy issues, so our goal is to encourage more soon. Please join us in engaging these topical questions about investment and employment:

*What are the Obstacles to Productive Investment from the Perspective of Investors?
* What Incentives will Increase Investments in Employment-Generating Industries?
* How Can States Bring Electric Power and New Infrastructures to Ignite New Industries?
* What is the Role of Collaborative Economic Governance Institutions in the Northern States?
* How Can States Promote Productive Agro-Industrial Linkages and Industrial Clusters?
* What Policies Will Promote Industrial Recovery in the North East States?
* How Can Educational Institutions and Civil Society Prepare Youths for Employment?

Participants include:
Paul Lubeck, JHU-SAIS
Hafiz Abubakar, Hon. Deputy Governor/Commissioner of Education Science and
Technology, Kano State
Ahmed Aliyu Ahmad, ERE-SAIS
Aisha M Bello, Hon. Commissioner for Planning and Budget, Kano State
Ambassador John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations
Representative, The Dangote Group
Amal Hassan, MD/CEO,
Attahiru Jega, Bayero University and George Mason University
Hannah Kabir, CEO, CreedsEnergy
Darren Kew, University of Massachusetts-Boston
A . B. Mahmoud, Dikko and Mahmoud, Kano
Kate Meagher, London School of Economics
Ernest Ogbozor, George Mason University
John Paden, George Mason University
Matthew Page, Council on Foreign Relations
Muhammad Sagagi, DFID, Kano State
Murtala Sagagi, Bayero University Kano
Ali Shettima, Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation
Kole Shettima, MacArthur Foundation
Navdeep Sodhi,
Kate Steel, USAID, Power Africa
Volker Treichel, The World Bank
Y.Z. Ya’u, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD)

Conference Agenda

Final Conference Summary

Conference PowerPoint Presentations  (selected, in agenda order):

Volker Treichel, The World Bank: “Learning Global Production Networks: Implications for Northern Nigeria”
Muhammad Sagagi, DFID, Kano State: “Finding the Right Balance Between Facilitating Investment and Public Policy”
Mansur Ahmed, The Dangote Group: “Catalysing Investment in Northern Nigeria”
Hannah Kabir, CreedsEnergy: “Solar Energy for Sustainable Economic Reconstruction”
Paul Lubeck, JHU-SAIS: “State Industrial Development Agencies and the Coordination Function”
Aisha Bello, Kano State Government: “Budgeting for Industry and Employment in Kano”
Kate Meagher, LSE: “Rethinking Linkages in Northern Nigeria”
Hafiz Abubakar, Kano State Government: “Entrepreneurship, Education, and SMEs: Correlates of Youth Empowerment”
Muhammad Sagagi, DFID: “MAFITA: Education as Promoting Marketable Skills”
Y.Z. Ya’u, CITAD: “The Value of Civil Society Groups for Upgrading Digital Employment Skills”
Amal Hassan, “Call Centers as Incubators of the ICT Industry in Northern States”
Navdeep Sodhi, “Export Incentives to Boost Nigeria’s Agro-Allied Sector”
Y.Z. Yau, CITAD: “Fostering Digital Employment: ‘Kannywood’, GSM Repairers, and SMEs”


Reframing South Africa: Thinking About Transformation
December 1, 2014

This conference addresses new ways to think about South Africa in the regional and global economy, possibilities for industrial policy, innovation in social programs, and shifts in economic structure. South Africa’s economic growth has slowed in recent years against a troubling background of deep structural inequalities that have persisted in the 20 years since democratization.

The meeting addresses the question of how to construct a model of transformation that can secure the participation of all actors, including those that still feel marginalized or disenfranchised, while getting the country back on the path to economic growth and stability. We build upon innovative internal debates in South Africa and hope to extend some of these debates with policy analysis and comparative insights.

Participants Include:
  • Marianne Ulriksen, University of Johannesburg
  • Ralph Mathegka, Clearcontent Research and Consulting
  • Gavin Hartford, Stakeholders Solutions
  • Antoinette Handley, University of Toronto
  • Mcebisi Ndletyana, MISTRA
  • Steve Friedman, University of Johannesburg
  • Peter Leon, Webber Wentzel
  • Fuad Cassim, National Treasury

More information on the panelists can be found here

Conference Agenda
Video of first panel
Video of second panel
Video of third panel

The Politics of African Growth and Social Inclusion
Oct 16-17, 2014

While African economies have enjoyed accelerated economic growth over the past fifteen years, for many countries this buoyant performance has not been accompanied by structural change, increased formal employment or broad-based gains in livelihoods. We are interested in the policies needed for inclusive growth, and the political circumstances that might encourage such policy innovations. The conference brings together a distinctive group of political scientists, economists, practitioners and policy specialists to look at present achievements and prevailing challenges to future development.

More information on the panelists can be found here.

Conference Agenda

Conference Videos Day 2:
The Politics of Economic Growth and Social Inclusion in Africa (Day 2, Session 1)
The Politics of Economic Growth and Social Inclusion in Africa (Day 2, Session 2)

“Kenya at Fifty” Conference
Sept 26-27, 2013

The “Kenya at Fifty” Conference will explore the changes that have taken place since independence in December 1963, examining the evolution of the political system following the introduction of multi-party politics and the new 2010 Constitution, which is only just beginning to transform relations between the central executive and the 47 counties;  the development of the economy, especially the impact of liberalization and the growth of trade with China and India and other new centers of investment;  and the impact of population growth – there are now eight times as many Kenyans as there were at independence – and the problems of rapid urbanization.  It will also trace the legacies of colonialism, the evolution of Kenyan studies, and the cultural transformation that has taken place over the last fifty years.  Kenya 2013 under the leadership of President Uhuru Kenyatta is a very different place from the country that gained independence from Britain on December 12th, 1963, after the Mau Mau struggle, led by President Jomo Kenyatta.  It has one of Africa’s most dynamic economies, a rapidly modernizing infrastructure, and a large and well-educated middle class.  But the political system has long been a constraint;  now, after years of political problems and increasing ethnic violence, will the new Constitution provide the political platform for economic success?  These and many other issues will be discussed at this major meeting of scholars interested in Kenya.

Conference Agenda

Conference Videos Day 1:
Kenya at 50 Day 1 Session 1
Kenya at 50 Day 1 Session 2 Part 1/2
Kenya at 50 Day 1 Session 2 Part 2/2
Kenya at 50 Day 1 Session 3

Conference Videos Day 2:
Kenya at 50 Day 2 Session 3
Kenya at 50 Day 2 Session 4 Part 1/2
Kenya at 50 Day 2 Session 4 Part 2/2

Governance and Security in the Sahelian States: From Crisis to Sustainable Recovery
April 11-12, 2013

In recent years, a broad crisis of security and governance has traversed states in the Sahelian region of West Africa. In Mali, actions by Taureg fighters and Salafist militias, and a coup d’état in Bamako, fostered partition of the country followed by external intervention to salvage the state.  In Northern Nigeria, a Salafist insurgency generally known as Boko Haram has staged a campaign of violence and destabilization, embroiling security forces and local communities. Several militias, among them Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), are active in a broad area ranging from southern Algeria through Mauritania, southern Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and possibly Chad.

 These security challenges are gathering momentum and scope in one of the poorest and most sparsely settled areas of Africa. The spaces of the Sahel are not “ungoverned,” though states have a great deal of difficulty projecting power throughout vast territories. Weak governance, social and political marginality, ineffectual state policies and the effects of climate change have all converged to pressure livelihoods and erode legitimacy in many of the Sahelian states.  Steps toward democratization and political reform have yielded partial and sporadic inclusion, but not resilient or accountable electoral regimes. There is a range of political and developmental response across the region, including promising steps toward democratic development in Senegal, political failure and crisis in Mali, and emergency security responses amid dominant party rule in Nigeria.

This conference focuses on the issues of governance and development underlying the evolving security dilemmas in Sahelian states. Beyond the daily reporting of attacks, military efforts and peacekeeping initiatives, the rapidly deteriorating security landscape reflects problems of consolidating state authority, developing inclusive democratic structures, and improving economic prospects for changing populations. Separate panels will examine the political and economic foundations of conflict in northern Nigeria; problems of political recovery and regional accommodation in Mali; sources of contentious politics in other Sahelian states; and policy options for addressing issues of governance and development in the region.  We are interested in demography and migration; climate and livelihoods; state-building and electoral rule; economic growth and prospects of structural change; communal bargaining and autonomy; security sector reform and conflict resolution.

Conference Agenda

The New African Democracy: Information Technology and Political Participation

May 1-2, 2012

— Keynote: Ebrahim Rasool, South African Ambassador to United States
Information and communications technologies (ICTs) are helping to advance political participation and social movements in Africa. The use of ICTs for democratic participation and government accountability offer exciting new possibilities that are changing politics and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. The recent North African revolutions have shown that rising ICT connectivity can facilitate political and social movements, placing new pressures and demands on autocracies and democracies alike. A major conference organized by the African Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies will examine these trends and their implications. The meeting will bring together experts and policymakers to discuss challenges and opportunities for African politics in the digital age.

The conference will address two broad questions:

(i) How has ICT advanced democratic participation, government accountability, and state-society relations in Africa?
(ii) How can policy better support connectivity and the use of ICT for democratic political participation and government accountability and transparency in the region?

To understand the drivers of change, we must look at levels of freedom in a society, how active is civil society, and how densely different societies are connected by ICTs. These factors can be measured and traced. The type of regime, ICT penetration, and levels of social mobilization should be mapped and analyzed for a fuller picture of technology and politics. Although the IT boom has had a positive impact in Africa, the effects of technology is uneven. Whether it’s the printing press or the micro-blog, technology has been fundamental to human progress throughout the world. But there are many questions as to how technology will be used, as well as the direction and pace of technologically-driven change. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of fixed internet subscriptions in Tanzania sharply rose from 10,000 to 488,000, while Guinea-Bissau has yet to reach 700 subscriptions. In Kenya, women’s self-reported use of the internet was less than half of men’s internet use, and even low-tech information sources such as newspapers reported a similar gender-gap in usage. A more discerning look at ICTs and politics in Africa can yield important policy implications. Collaboration and support from local donors, international foundations, government agencies, and private investors have accelerated the proliferation of ICT’s across Africa. How can foreign supporters collaborate more effectively with local organizations to promote good governance through ICT?

Conference Agenda

Two Decades of Democracy and Governance in Africa: Lessons Learned, Challenges and Prospects
June 20-22, 2011 (Dakar, Senegal)

The Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), in partnership with the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies organized the international conference, “Two decades of democracy and governance in Africa: lessons learned, challenges and prospects” bringing together academics, activists and politicians from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Participants generated intellectual reflections and rigorous discussion on how the process of democratization in Africa and the architecture of governance have promoted social justice, social progress and development on the continent over the past two decades.

The conference focused on progress and achievements, lessons learned, failures, challenges and opportunities, and policy-based interventions that might be useful to improve democracy and governance in Africa in the next two decades of the 21st century.

Visit the conference site for more information.

Africa: 53 Countries, One Union– The New Challenges
June 15-16, 2011

The  new Conference “Africa: 53 Countries, One Union – The New Challenges” has taken place in Washington, DC on June 15 and 16, 2011.

This was the second in a series of three conferences; the first one was held in Bologna last year, and the last one will be held in Addis Ababa in 2012. The main objective was to offer to senior policy makers and experts the opportunity to discuss the relevance of regional and continental integration in the solution of major African problems, including those generated by recent developments which now challenge our concepts of freedom and democracy.

This year our Foundation for World Wide Cooperation has teamed up with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to organize this series of events.

The Conference has focused on the roles of the United Nations, African Union, European Union and the United States and China governments. International organizations such as the World Bank, African Development Bank, World Trade Organization, and Economic Commission for Africa had also been involved.

The Conference opening on June 15 took place at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (the Ronald Reagan Building) and the working sessions on June 16 were held at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Visit the conference site for more information.

Africa’s New Era: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future
March 1-2, 2011

Africa has often been associated with discouraging economic performance, yet the continent’s development story seems to be making a change for the better. Africa’s economic growth rate accelerated from 1996 to 2008, making it the third fastest growing region in the world. The region has benefitted from increased macroeconomic stability, elevated global demand for its natural resources, and new sources of investment. Additionally, emerging sectors such as telecommunications, banking, retail and agriculture have contributed to Africa’s growth. The changes on the continent are not only economic; democratization and reduced conflict have enhanced development prospects. Nonetheless, Africa’s achievements remain fragile due to a legacy of economic failure, war, corruption, and weak institutions.

This conference explores the key factors that have contributed to the acceleration of African development over the past decade. Additionally, participants identify the key risks and opportunities for the region’s development looking ahead. Influential members of academia, the policy world, and the private sector discuss these issues and provide recommendations.

Conference Agenda

Conference Powerpoint Presentations:

Religion and Politics in Africa
April 2, 2010

Africa often attracts attention as a region dominated by ethnic identities and politics, yet it is also a continent of religious diversity, with important effects on public life. Issues related to religious affiliation, spiritual values, coexistence among groups, competition between communities, and religious conflict are increasingly seen in the political sphere.The conference brings together a group of leading scholars to examine the changing role of religion in African politics and the various expressions of religious identity in the public domain.

Conference Agenda

The Politics of Development and Security in Africa’s Oil States
April 2-3, 2009

(With generous funding from the United States Institute of Peace)

Western Africa’s burgeoning oil and gas development has attracted growing international attention. Instability and deep developmental problems among oil-exporting states pose challenges of broad significance. “The Politics of Development and Security in Africa’s Oil States” brings together an international group of scholars and practitioners to assess global, national, and local implications of resource wealth in sub-Saharan Africa’s petroleum exporting countries.

Are African oil producers locked into a harmful pattern that predicts further instability and economic malaise, or are there political and economic strategies that can shift these countries toward development and security? We consider institutional change, democratic reform, and equitable resource control as catalysts of lasting security in the region. The conference will examine the international context for Africa’s energy exports; domestic impacts on governance, economic management, and popular welfare; and local responses to government policies and foreign firms.

Conference Agenda

Conference Power Point presentations:

Hopkins All-University Seminar on Africa (HAUSA) Workshop:
April 25, 2008

The Hopkins All-University Seminar on Africa (HAUSA) brings together Africa-focused research from the University’s varied disciplines and academic backgrounds. Faculty and graduate students are invited to present current Africa-related research on a variety of topics from the social sciences, health sciences, humanities, business, law, or other disciplines. Research focused on African themes and current issues, or based on African field research, is welcome.

Elections in Africa: Democratic Challenges and U.S. Response
April 4, 2008

Today, democratic governments are seen across Africa, following decades of authoritarian rule. In dozens of countries, multi-party elections have become routine events. Yet elections vary widely in quality, along with their effects on emerging democratic politics. Founding elections may provide a confident beginning for a democratic regime, or they may tarnish the credibility of the new system. Subsequent elections can ratify democratic norms and bolster confidence in competitive democracy, or else they can spur crises and political violence among contending factions.

The U.S. government has set forth goals of promoting the emergence and development of democracy in Africa. However, governance often competes with other policy goals including security, trade, health, and economic reform. The rhetoric of democracy assistance has not always been matched by the reality of aid and political commitments.  Non-governmental organizations continue to press for credible and peaceful elections throughout Africa.

This conference will look at recent elections in Africa in the context of U.S. policy in the region. Speakers will cover democratic trends in Africa and the changing elements of U.S. policy. Participants will also analyze the context of recent elections in Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe, covering positive experiences as well as more troubled cases.

Conference Agenda

50 Years of Ghana’s Independence: Politics, Society and Development
November 2, 2007

Ghana’s independence in March 1957 was a bellwether for Africa, ushering in the era of decolonization and the continent’s emergence on the world stage. In the years after independence, hope contended with realism as Ghana experienced different political arrangements, economic policies and ideological paths. During the past five decades, Ghana has reflected many challenges typical of the region. Aspirations for democracy were often stifled by episodes of military rule, expectations for development were offset by economic decline, and the goals of national unity contended with ethnic rivalry.  While the early decades were marked by state weakness and authoritarianism, Ghana has steadily achieved growing stability, democracy, and economic improvement over the past twenty years. This conference will review Ghana’s post-colonial experience, the dimensions of political and economic change, and expectations for the country’s future. An exceptional group of analysts and practitioners have been gathered for this conference.

Conference Agenda

China’s New Engagement With Africa: Opportunity and Challenge
April 6-7, 2007

China’s activities in Africa have expanded dramatically in recent years. Diplomatic engagement, foreign aid, trade, investment and lending have all grown substantially. Beijing hosted a major summit meeting of African leaders last year, and President Hu Jintao recently completed a tour through the African continent. China has become a major donor and trading partner to African countries, overtaking such traditional powers as the UK. China’s new engagement suggests a major transition in the strategic landscape of Africa.

What are the trends in China’s African relations, and the possible implications? While some observers see new opportunities for African economic development and strategic balancing, others see maneuvers for energy and commodities, along with possible liabilities for governance and security.

The SAIS African Studies Program, in partnership with the Council for African Studies  at the School of International Service (SIS), will convene a major conference on April 6-7 to explore these issues.

Panelists will discuss:

  • China’s evolving foreign policy goals;
  • The articulation of alternate development models for Africa;
  • African concerns and motives with relation to China;
  • The effects of China’s engagement on energy and commodity markets;
  • Implications for governance and security in the region;
  • Important bilateral relationships between China and selected African states;
  • European responses to China’s African relations;
  • US policy and the new strategic terrain in Africa
  • Participants will include scholars and policy professionals from Africa, the United States, China, and Europe.

Conference Agenda

Nigeria’s Political Outlook: The 2007 Elections and Beyond

Joint statement on Nigeria’s elections (released May 17, 2007): The statement reflects the views of individuals who participated in the Washington, DC conference series, and as election observers in Nigeria.

Nigerians look forward to state and national elections in April 2007, marking the first time since independence that civilian administrations will change through the ballot box. This democratic watershed is surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty, as Nigeria’s political terrain has become increasingly contentious. Will elections be held on time? Will the polls be peaceful? Will the results be broadly accepted by the Nigerian public? What is the potential for electoral violence? How will opposition parties and losing candidates respond? Will the 2007 elections mark a step forward for Nigeria’s fledgling democracy, or a crisis of confidence and stability for Africa’s most populous nation?

These questions will be addressed by panel of prominent Nigerian academics, media analysts and NGO leaders, joined by senior Nigerian leaders and US-based democracy partners. The half-day meeting will include sessions on:

  • Nigeria’s political terrain
  • The state of election preparations
  • Luncheon keynote on Nigeria’s democratic prospects

Participants include:

  • Mr. Reuben Abati, Guardian Newspapers
  • Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, CLEEN Foundation and Transition Monitoring Group
  • Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, Center for Democratic Development
  • Dr. Rotimi Suberu, University of Ibadan and USIP
  • Dr. Peter Lewis, Johns Hopkins, SAIS
  • Keynote Speaker: Honorable Nasir El-Rufai, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory

This is the first of four conferences on Nigeria’s 2007 elections, jointly sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. Institute of Peace, the African Studies Program at Johns Hopkins-SAIS and the African Studies Program at Northwestern University.

Conference Agenda

SAIS-Sorbonne Research Symposium: The United States, France, and Africa–  Competition or Complementarity?
December 8, 2006

This meeting, hosted by the African Studies Program and the Center for Transatlantic Relations, brought together scholars and policy analysts from the U.S and leading French institutions. About 90 participants from the U.S., Europe and Africa participated in the all-day conference.

Papers and commentary covered the changing position of Africa in the international system; the evolution of U.S. and French foreign policies toward Africa; the changing strategic landscape in Africa; and the particular challenges of peacekeeping in African conflicts.

Participants include:

  • Daniel Bourmaud, INALCO, Paris
  • Esther Brimmer, Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS
  • Michel Girard, Sorbonne, Paris
  • Peter Lewis, African Studies Program, SAIS
  • Princeton Lyman, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Jean-Luc Marret, Johns Hopkins SAIS, Center for Transatlantic RelationsFondation pour la Recherche Stratégique
  • Stephen Morrison, CSIS, Washington
  • Peter Schraeder, Loyola University, Chicago
  • Paul Williams, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University
  • I. William Zartman, Conflict Management and Security, SAIS

Conference Agenda