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The history of Africa and the diaspora


DESPITE more students from ethnic minorities entering higher and further education in the UK, there are still very few black and minority ethnic (BAME) academics teaching in these institutions.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency published in 2016 show that there are more than 18,000 professors in the UK. But of this number, there are only 85 BAME professors and only one black British professor of African History and the diaspora.

The history of Africa and the African diaspora is undoubtedly as extensive and worthy as any other historical subject and illustrates that there is vastly more to the subject than the Transatlantic slave trade or the American civil rights movement. However, this history is only taught at one university in the UK at undergraduate and postgraduate level. This reflects a long-voiced criticism that the education curriculum in the UK, both at secondary school and higher education level, does not enlighten students about the contribution of African people to world history. One man is determined to change that.

HISTORY: Few students are aware that famed Roman Emperor Septimius Severus was from North Africa

Hakim Adi, right, professor of the History of Africa and the African Diaspora at the University of Chichester, is the only BAME professor in the UK who specialises in the history. Over the course of a 30-year journey he has made it his mission sion to teach students about black history through his research, books and events he organises.

“When our young people are taught about the Romans in school they should also be taught that the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, was from Libya and that many Africans, some in important positions, were in Britain during the Roman occupation and before it,” Adi tells The Voice.

“The African presence in Britain throughout history is undeniable, and it’s important that all young people, not just those of African and Caribbean heritage, are taught the facts of history at every key stage, from early years right up to GCSE and A-level and even in higher education.

“We all have a duty to teach accurately, and what better way to do so than by representing the voices and experiences of black women and men who are often left out of the British and world history narrative? Africans and those of African heritage have made so many contributions and it is vital we begin to teach the truth about history, that means including and representing black people in Britain.”

The struggle to combat Eurocentrism and a Eurocentric curriculum has been waged for many years. In 1991, Professor Adi and others formed The Black and Asian Studies Association (BASA), to foster research and to disseminate information on the history of black peoples in Britain.


Since its formation BASA has campaigned to incorporate the history of Africa and the African Diaspora, including black British history, into the mainstream national curriculum for schools, in addition to working with local organisations to highlight the black presence in British society. Through producing a combination of newsletters and annual conferences, BASA has continued to challenge the status-quo and change the National Curriculum for History, as well as the practices of archives, libraries and museums. As it now stands some aspects of the history is taught in primary and secondary school.

Last year Professor Adi and other BASA members developed a new GCSE module titled ‘Migration to Britain’ that also includes African people in history, and a textbook, ‘Explaining the Modern World’. In addition to his work in schools and at undergraduate level, Professor Adi has recently launched a new Masters of Research programme in The History of Africa and the African Diaspora at Chichester University.

This course, which is completely online, aims to enable students to explore the historical relationship between Africa and the diaspora in the modern period by conducting their own supervised research in this important field. Yet, despite, making these monumental changes, Professor Adi is still concerned with the lack of black students taking up history in schools, both as a degree choice and at postgraduate level.

To encourage more young people to get involved with history, Professor Adi launched the Young Film Makers Award in 2016 to encourage all young people of secondary school age to engage with black British history by making a short five-minute film on the subject.

He also launched the Young Historians Project (YHP) in partnership with the Black Cultural Archives, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The initiative launched in 2015 and invited young people aged 16–25 of African and Caribbean heritage to take an active role in learning and sharing their history with the wider community.

He says: “Through my own experience, there are very few young people from African and Caribbean backgrounds who study or teach history.

“I wanted to inspire and empower young people to get involved, investigate history for themselves and learn valuable skills in the process.

“What has also become important is to use YHP as a way for young people to become historians of their own communities, learning from our elders, uncovering and preserving hidden histories for everyone’s enlightenment.”

The first YHP session focused on political activism. By collecting filmed oral histories, photographs and other documents, participants created an exhibition and documentary film about the Black Liberation Front (BLF), the Black Power organisation, formed in 1971.

MOVEMENT: Black Liberation Front

The BLF established the Grassroots newspaper, bookshops and extensive community work, including affordable housing for black families and support for black prisoners. The movement focused on developing a Pan-African consciousness among the black community in Britain, consolidating black political identity and challenging the impact of racism in the UK, playing an influential role in Britain until the early 1990s.

“The young people involved in this project are themselves agents of change,” says Adi.

“The more people who are involved in understanding and sharing our history the better.

Then we are in a stronger position to realise that history is the study of change and we can all be the agents of change. We are powerful, but that power has to start with us being actively engaged.”

Throughout his career, Professor Adi has come up against many battles, both personally and professionally, in his bid to bring the contribution of black people to a wider audience. These challenges ranged from racial discrimination and cultural appropriation to redundancy and ostracisation, despite having a resumé of extensive experience and knowledge in his field.

Most people might have been tempted to quit, but not Adi. He has appeared in award-winning documentaries such as 500 Years Later (2005) in addition to having numerous TV and radio appearances and sharing his research far and wide in print. He has written and published three children’s books, including The History of the African and Caribbean Communities in Britain. His many other publications include: West Africans in Britain, 1900-1960; The Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited; Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787, and Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939.

Adi’s latest book, Pan-Africanism: A History, will be available in August. This is just a small reflection of his dedication and passion for sharing African history. Yet he says that creating an impact is the thing he is most proud of in comparison to his all academic activity.

CHRONICLES: One of Adi's published works

“It’s great to have a book published, but even better when I meet young people or former students who tell me how much they enjoyed a book or that teaching had an impact on them” Adi says.

“I’ve taught at every level in schools, colleges, prisons, community centres as well as in universities, here and overseas, but it is always good to know my work is having a positive impact on someone.”


He continues: “When I was growing up, not many people went to university and even when I got there the way in which African history was taught was off-putting, it was easy to be discouraged but it was important for me to keep going. When I eventually started teaching I had to teach other subjects before I could focus solely on Africa and the diaspora. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but I always loved my subject, thought it was important and despite ups and downs kept going.

“Life has taught me never to give up. As Frederick Douglass said, ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress’.”

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