This post originally appeared on VICE Canada.
On the evening of March 25, the hashtag #CadaanStudies (“cadaan” meaning “white” in Somali) emerged amongst Twitter timelines as a small collective of Somali academics and writers spoke out, 140 characters (or less) at a time. Initiated by Safia Aidid, a Canadian Harvard PhD candidate, the hashtag gradually became a commentary on the whiteness and privileges prominent within academia. More specifically, the online conversation served as a direct response to the launch of the Somaliland Journal of African Studies (SJAS), a peer-reviewed scholarly journal that claims a particular focus on East Africa—the absence of a single Somali editor, advisory board member, or contributor left many pointing out that the only thing Somali about this journal is its title.
Founded by Rodrigo Vaz, a white male MSc candidate for The School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London, the journal was made in collaboration with University of Hargeysa’s Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. Yet somehow, it lacks any Somali involvement. This fundamental error is one often repeated in academia or any platforms that narrate the black or African experience.
“The content of [our] first issue had, unfortunately, no papers on Somalia… or by Somalis for a simple reason: we received none,” says Vaz on the public criticism SJAShas received. “I take the blame for that. This happened likely because the call for papers didn’t reach as many students and scholars as we [would’ve liked]. That is something we are working on.”
The content featured in SJAS‘s first issue involves no representation or inclusion of Somalia and its people, but rather material regarding the ECOWAS mission in Sierre Leone, migrant domestic work in South Africa, and the relationship between ethnicity and violence in Kenya elections. (They are currently in the midst of preparing the second issue.) But its description stating that SJAS is dedicated to “covering an academic research area in clear expansion” led many to wonder if this journal was simply created by an aspiring young, white academic hoping to attain credit in an area with growing scholarship that’s still garnering little attention.
“The Horn of Africa and the Somali diaspora are ‘hot’ topics of academic and policy interest, and concern to many states, institutions, and organizations for a number of reasons: states and their collapse, civil war and post-conflict society and restructuring, religion, radicalism and terrorism, gender, migration/diaspora, assimilation,” said Aidid, a few days after #CadaanStudies attracted the attention of Somali academics and activists globally. (With 44,995 Somalis reportedly situated in Canada as of 2011, it is currently the country’s largest African diaspora.)
Twitter activism is nothing new. In the case of #CadaanStudies, people used social media to deconstruct the privilege within academia while connecting communities internationally, strengthening the message that black voices will no longer be undervalued in African and Black studies. “The #CadaanStudies hashtag, Safia, and many others are completely right on this… reversing that is our top priority right now,” said Vaz.
#CadaanStudies assembled 1,500 tweets in its first few days of inception and its Storifyhas been viewed around 1,200 times. “It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this information and debate [has reached] more people than [those that] have downloaded most academic articles,” said Aidid on the outreach of her hashtag.