The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has postponed an international workshop for Sierra Leonean scholars scheduled for June 15 and 16, 2016 in Freetown because of ongoing international protests against the University of Sierra Leone over the case of Professor Ibrahim Abdullah.
For several months now, the University of Sierra Leone has come under severe national and international criticisms for its failure to uphold academic freedom and its acts of injustice against the notable academic, Professor Ibrahim Abdullah.
The latest development followed attempts by the University Registrar, Sorie Dumbuya and Memunatu Pratt, the head of the Fourah Bay College Peace and Conflict Studies Program, to exclude Professor Abdullah from participation in a workshop for Sierra Leonean scholars that would have been held next week.
The said international workshop was to be organized by the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) of the Social Science Research Council, which supports independent African research on conflict-affected countries and neighboring regions of the continent. The organization seeks to integrate African knowledge into global policy communities.
The postponed workshop in Freetown was designed to help Sierra Leonean scholars who are interested in updating their knowledge of various aspects of proposal writing, such as framing research questions, research methods and ethics, literature review and proposal budgeting to be able to compete in SSRC-APN grant competitions.
The organizers said peacebuilding researchers in Sierra Leone have had historically low participation and success rates for SSRC-APN grant competitions.
“It was hoped that the workshop will give participants the opportunity to learn more about the various APN grant opportunities, including the application process and proposal requirements, and how to submit a good grant application,” one of the organizers stated.
The postponement came after, Memunatu Pratt, the current head of Fourah Bay College’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies objected to the inclusion of Professor Ibrahim Abdullah in the workshop.
The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) had invited Professor Abdullah to serve as a resource person for the said workshop in Freetown.
“As a leading peacebuilding scholar and researcher, we believe that your insights and experience would be invaluable to participants and wish to extend an invitation to you to serve as a resource person for the workshop. The expectation is that you will make presentation on Contextualizing Research in Existing Literature and hold one-on-one sessions with three proposal writers/participants on ways to improve the quality of the proposal or their papers,” the SSRC had written to Prof. Ibrahim Abdullah on May 4, 2016.
But Head of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Memunatu Pratt protested against the SSRC’s decision to include Prof. Abdullah as a resource person. She alleged that the Registrar of University of Sierra Leone, Sorie Dumbuya does not want the renowned international academic to be included in any of its programs.
“The university administration has made it clear that Prof Abdullah must not participate in any activity that has to do directly with the University or its constituent colleges or departments. In this regard and in the interest of the partnership, it will be our mutual interest for him not to be involved in this program,” she wrote to the SSRC.
Dr. Cyril Obi of the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) and Memunatu Pratt had earlier signed the letter of invitation sent to Professor Abdullah, but Madame Pratt objected to the inclusion of Professor Abdullah without consulting the SSRC.
Professor Ibrahim Abdullah described the University’s decision as an act of war against academic freedom in Sierra Leone. He said his struggle for academic freedom and justice is a battle against “academic jihadists” who want to run a university without regards for law.
“The powers vested in the Registrar has to be exercised within the laws of Sierra Leone—- not any arbitrary norm or illegalities designed by Mr. Dumbuya or any of his subalterns to undermine democratic institutions and practices. Neither the Registrar nor you, Ms. Pratt has any instrument on which you could stand in excluding me from participating in any meeting. At issue here is the continued violation of my academic rights of which you Ms. Pratt is now a party,” Prof. Abdullah wrote to Memunatu Pratt and the University Registrar, Sorie Dumbuya.
Following the evolving controversy, the SSRC has resolved to postpone the workshop and there are now concerns that this would result to sour relations with Fourah Bay College.
Observers say this latest development will also have severe impacts on the University’s relationship with other partner institutions around the world.
A lecturer in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies expressed anger over the action of Memunatu Pratt and the University Registrar, Sorie Dumbuya on the matter saying that the SSRC’s decision to postpone the workshop is not good for the University of Sierra Leone.
“The University must respect academic freedom and standards and it must address the case of Prof. Abdullah,” he said.
Professor Abdullah is one of Africa’s leading contemporary historians and also renowned conflict scholar in West Africa. Between 2002-2004, he was awarded a prestigious SSRC grant as part of his research on issues around the conflicts of the 1990s in West Africa.
Since January 2016, he has been engaged in a protracted struggle against university administrators at Fourah Bay College over decline in teaching and learning standards in the University of Sierra Leone. University authorities retaliated against his open criticisms of the current status of the university by suspending his salary and took an illegitimate decision to revoke his tenured professorial position. The case has drawn national and international attention with several petitions sent to the president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma who technically serves as the head of the University of Sierra Leone.
In early April 2016, an international conference of academics meeting in Lilongwe, Malawi described Prof. Abdullah’s case as a violation of national and international laws relating to academic freedom and justice.
“We believe that Professor Ibrahim Abdullah, a distinguished scholar of high international repute, raised questions of academic standards because of his deep commitment to his university and country,” they said in a letter sent to Sierra Leone president through the Council for the Development of Social Science Research (CODESRIA) on April 20, 2016.