Success Story from Nigeria: Dr. Toyin Falola Promotes African Studies

Toyin Omoyeni Falola was born 1953 in Ibadan, Nigeria. In the 1960s, he dropped out of high school to join a peasant rebellion that protested high taxation and the ill treatment of farmers. During and after the rebellion, young Toyin kept wondering why it was that some, including his own grandfather, had to lose their lives. Although he initially planned to enter the sciences and medicine, Mr. Falola’s loss of his grandfather made him determined to enter the humanities.

Mr. Falola began his career in education in 1970, teaching at the UAMC Primary School, Pahayi, Ilaro Nigeria.  After earning a Bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Ife, he obtained his Ph.D. in 1981 from the same institution, which is now known as Obafemi Awolowo University. Dr. Falola served on the history faculty at the University of Ife for around a decade before moving to the USA in 1991 to take a position teaching history and African Studies at the University of Texas, at Austin.

Dr. Falola is an astoundingly prolific author. He has more than 100 single-authored, co-authored, and edited books to his name. Although he is best known for his work on the political economy of southwestern Nigeria, his intellectual interests are wide ranging, such that he has published on teen life in Africa, Black business leaders, the global oil industry, and African landscapes and environments. He also has a volume of poetry. His acclaimed memoir, A Mouth Sweeter than Salt (University of Michigan Press, 2004), was a finalist for the prestigious Herskovits Prize, granted through the largest professional society in North America for the study of Africa, the African Studies Association (ASA), for which Dr. Falola has served as President since 2015.

In addition to his own scholarship, Dr. Falola has been a champion of African Studies. He has supported research through his mentorship of students, long-term editorship of the African Economic History Review, service on many academic journals’ editorial boards, and his creation and editorship of several academic book series including: the University of Rochester series, Studies in Africa and the Diaspora and the Carolina Academic Press African World Series. Dr. Falola is also a founding member of the Ife Humanities Society, the President of the Nigerian Studies Association, and the General Secretary of the Historical Society of Nigeria.

In addition, Dr. Falola has hosted his own Annual Africa Conference at the University of Texas-Austin (UT-Austin) for more than a decade. The conference draws students and scholars from across North America, Europe, and Africa. Hosting the conference requires considerable effort that goes well beyond Dr. Falola’s duties as the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at UT-Austin. Dr. Falola indicates that he has given over $10,000 of his own money to support African Studies in a variety of ways. He also engages in fundraising to make his Texas-based Africa conference affordable and he graciously invites conference goers to his home for a banquet. His daughter, Bisola, a geographer, assists with the organization of the annual event, including the program and peer-reviewed books based on select conference papers.

Dr. Falola is a pioneer in digital communication among Africanists. He has worked tirelessly to build linkages between African and US-based institutions of higher education. He has helped make UT-Austin a destination for members of the highly competitive Young African Leadership Initiative (Mandela Washington Fellows Program). The Mandela Washington Fellows Program was initiated by President Obama in 2014. It enables 500 outstanding young Africans (out of over 50,000 applicants) to network, exchange ideas, and learn about businesses and academics in the USA for six weeks. The impressive 2015 group is currently touring the USA.

Dr. Falola has received many honors and awards (click here to see the full list). To name just a few of these recognitions, Dr. Falola is: the recipient of the University of Texas System Chancellor’s Teaching Award (2003), the Cheikh Anta Diop Award for Excellence in African Studies (2006), the Ibn Khaldun Distinguished Award for Research Excellence, and the ASA’s Distinguished Africanist Award (2011). Since 2013, an annual conference has been held in Dr. Falola’s name. It is known as the Toyin Falola Annual International Conference on Africa and the African Diaspora or TOFAC. To date, the meeting has been held in Nigeria and South Africa. Dr. Falola holds three honorary chieftaincies, including two from 2014 from Nigeria.

Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Dr. Toyin Falola and his promotion of African Studies been so successful?

Some key characteristics come to mind:

Dr. Falola has wide ranging interests and expertise and has NETWORKED effectively through conferences and numerous short-term teaching appointments including at: the University of Cambridge in England, York University in Canada, Smith College in Massachusetts in the United States, The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos, Nigeria.

Real life events from his FAMILY’S PAST sparked a PASSION in Dr. Falola to learn more and to SHARE that KNOWLEDGE with others. He is a CHAMPION of AFRICA who helps debunk myths and misconceptions about the continent. He also assists people in the USA and elsewhere to understand AFRICA’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE AMERICAS, from scholars and businesspeople, to products such as oil and coffee. These positive contributions go well beyond topics such as slavery that might get covered in history books.

Dr. Falola WORKS TIRELESSLY and PROVIDES OPPORTUNITIES for others through the conferences he organizes and leads and the journals and book series he has founded and edits.

By Heidi G. Frontani

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One comment

  1. Great write-up on Prof. Toyin Falola. He is, indeed, a blessing to the continent of Africa and the world at large. God bless the writer of this article

    Like

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