College of Human Sciences

Unisa mourns death of African scholar in Ethiopian plane crash

Prof Pius Adebola Adesanmi

Prof Pius Adebola Adesanmi, a passionate African scholar, was one of the 157 people who perished on 10 March 2019 in the ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines plane crash. At the time of his death, he was a Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa.

In July of 2017, the Department of English Studies in the College of Human Sciences at Unisa, in partnership with the Association of African Rhetoric, had the honour of inviting Adesanmi as one of four keynote speakers to the seventh international conference of the association. The conference doubled as the tenth anniversary of the Association of African Rhetoric. The theme of the conference was Rhetoric, media and development in Africa, with a roundtable discussion on The prospect of rhetoric in Africa. Adesanmi’s keynote address was titled Africa and the single names of post-globality: Rhetoric and responsibility.

Friends and associates are organising an afternoon of tribute for Prof Pius Adebola Adesanmi at 15:00 on Friday 15 March 2019. The venue is the Kwame Nkrumah Hall, Fourth Floor, Robert Sobukwe Building, 263 Nana Sita Street, Pretoria. Please join us if you can.

Ironically, in 2015, in his TEDxEuston talk, Africa is the forward that the world needs to face, he spoke about the post-human disposition of cutting edge technology, contrasting it with the African philosophy of ubuntu, togetherness and human agency. Adesanmi identified rapid technological advancement in the West as devoid of the human agency that is the hallmark of African philosophy. His contention was that Africa is the forward that the world needs to face in order to humanise the post-humanist disposition of the fourth industrial revolution. He was prophetic. We now know his plane crashed because technology over-rode human agency, depriving us of one of Africa’s brilliant minds. You can access his TED talk here.

Public and global intellectual

Adesanmi was an outstanding and highly decorated scholar. He was an Izaak Walton Killam Scholar while undertaking his doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia. He won the 2010 inaugural Penguin Prize for African writing in the non-fiction category for his book You’re not a country, Africa! He also received the prestigious Canada Bureau of International Education Leadership Award in 2017. He was in great demand as a distinguished public intellectual, speaker, columnist, satirist and writer.

Adesanmi died in the service of Africa, as he was on his way to a meeting in Nairobi at the behest of the African Union. As a public and global intellectual, he enjoyed a robust transnational followership. He was the founder of The African Doctoral Lounge on Facebook, a forum created to mentor African postgraduate students. He was a social media enthusiast. He had over 40 000 followers around the world who enjoyed his daily dose of witty satire on a range of socio-political and economic issues concerning his home country Nigeria, as well as greater Africa. He had an extraordinary capacity to connect with people and to multi-task.

* By Mirriam Lephalala, Chair of Department, English Studies

Publish date: 2019/03/15