There is a story that once upon a time, an African was a candidate for a senior United Nations job. His opponents de-campaigned his candidature by arguing that while Africans in general are knowledgeable and very good at talking; they were also very poor at writing, yet the job needed individuals who are both good speakers as well as good writers. In conversation among African professional leaders, we have shared and laughed over this joke/story many times. Indeed we have agreed among ourselves that in fact we know a lot about what happens in Africa but write little about it. We have consoled ourselves that very often it is foreigners who get excited about issues that we live with normally and rush to tell our stories with less depth and many distortions. So what do we need to do to cultivate the writing culture and tell our own stories with depth and accuracy?
Reasons and motives for engaging in scholarly writing range from academics who must publish to grow their careers and their institutions, dedicated research centers and think tanksthat are mandated to focus on research and publications, service providers who undertake research to solve work related problems and improve the quality of their work. There are also investigative journalists who research and write about issues as part of the mandate of their media house. Donors also sometimes require that the outputs of research grants are published.
Scholarly writing has many benefits including sharing knowledge and evidence that leads to improved performance of systems. It also helps us to think more critically by triggering a process of reflection that prepares us to pursue important questions that need to be answered. Furthermore, it pushes us all to seek the evidence that change is happening and progress is taking place (JK Kolars).
Acquiring writing skills needs training, commitment and an enabling environment. Educational institutions should ensure that scholarly writing skills are imparted as core competencies. Writing clubs in schools and dedicated writing workshops at the work place and publication policies that reward scholarly writing should be institutionalized and government ministries should have policies, opportunities and facilities that encourage and support research and scholarly writing.
I have been moved to write on this topic for several reasons. The first is that without cultivating the writing and reading culture especially in today’s globalized digital world, we Africans will lag behind the rest of the world. Secondly, cultivating a mind-set that relentlessly pursues excellence that, we have discussed in the past will not be possible without emphasis on knowledge generation and management that is anchored on the writing and reading culture. Lastly, I want to share my experience as an Academic Resident Writing Scholar over four-week period during April/May 2013 at the Rockefeller Foundation Center in Bellagio, Italy. During my stay, there were only five Africans out of some 30 individuals that overlapped with my residency. I would like to encourage more Africans to apply for these scholarships. Residency Scholarships are awarded by the Rockefeller Foundation through a competitive application process and by recommendation and here is the link toaccess more information: http://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/bellagio-center/residency-program/academic-writing-residency
Apart from the serious work of writing, the care that you receive from the staff is excellent, the interaction with other scholars is educative and uplifting and the beauty of the location on the shores of lake Como is simply out of this world.