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This article focuses on the development of African Studies, principally in post-1945 Europe and North America, and its counterpart in post-independence Africa. African Studies enjoys an increasingly close connection with bilateral and multilateral development co-operation, providing research and researchers (along with their own conceptual frameworks and concerns) to assist in defining and providing direction for aid and related policies. This is leading to unhealthy practices, whereby African research is ignored in the formulation of international policies towards the continent; while external Africanists assume the function of interpreting the world to Africa, and vice versa. This dynamic reinforces existing asymmetries in capacity and influence, especially given the crisis of higher education in most African countries. It also undermines Africa’s research community, in particular the scope for cross-national and international exchange and the engagement in broader development debates, with the result that those social scientists who have not succumbed to the consultancy market or sought career opportunities elsewhere are encouraged to focus on narrow empirical studies. This political division of intellectual labour needs to be replaced with one that allows for the free expression and exchange of ideas not only by Africans on Africa, but with the wider international community who share the same broad thematic and/or theoretical preoccupations as the African scholars with whom they are in contact.

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