Royal African Society

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Royal African Society
legal form Registered Charity (1062764)
founding 1901
Seat London
Office Royal African Society, SOAS, 21 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5EA
motto Promoting Africa (Engl. Africa promote)
purpose Promoting relations between Great Britain and Africa
main emphasis History, culture, politics and economy Africa
Action space United Kingdom and Africa
Chair Nicholas Westcott (Director)

The Royal African Society ( RAS ) is an organization founded in 1901 as the African Society to promote Africa in terms of economy, politics, culture and education. The addition "Royal" was approved by the Crown in 1935. In 1968 a Royal Charter was also granted. To this end, the RAS is trying to strengthen Britain's relationship with Africa and the world.


The Royal African Society was founded in 1901 in memory of the British traveler to Africa, Mary Kingsley , whose publications after two trips to Africa had a decisive influence on the image of Africa among the British public. Kingsley himself had often considered forming a society that would provide a forum for the diverse interests of academics, friends, political alliances, and traders. However, such a company was only founded one year after her death, in 1900.

The guiding principle of the organization since its inception has been to improve the understanding of African positions. Admittedly, after it was founded during the heyday of imperialism and under the power dynamic of that time, this model may have been distorted at times. In the organizational goals published in 1902, the RAS formulated:

“... for the purpose of investigating the usages, institutions, customs, religions, antiquities, history and languages ​​of the native races of Africa; of facilitating the commercial and industrial development of the continent in the manner best fitted to secure the welfare of its inhabitants; and as a central institution in England for the study of African subjects. The funds of the society shall be exclusively devoted to furthering these ends by the periodical publication of a Journal, and by the establishment of a library, Reading Room, and should the Society so determine, a Museum. ”

“... with the aim of investigating the intentions, institutions, customs, religions, cultural goods, history and languages ​​of the indigenous races of Africa ... with the aim of promoting the commercial and industrial development of the continent in the most suitable form for the benefit of its inhabitants as England's central institution for research on African issues. The Society's funds are to be used solely to pursue these goals through the publication of a magazine, the establishment of a library with a reading room and, if the Society decides to do so, the establishment of a museum. "

- Royal African Society

The language may be inappropriate by today's standards. The museum was never founded. But the journal has been published since 1902 and is now an important scientific journal in dialogue with Africa.

Early phase: until the 1920s

Dinner of the African Society 1931

In the period leading up to World War I , the number of subscribers to the Journal of the African Society grew from two, the British Foreign Office and the Colonial Office , to 473. Among those subscribers were twenty members for life and one honorary member, Gbadebo I. dem Alake von Egba (roughly king of Egba , today northern Nigeria ). The topics covered ranged from the tax system in northern Nigeria to the discussion of school teaching in local languages. The tone of voice reflected the different perceptions of Africa and Africans by the members of society and treated Africans with respect, but in need of guidance from Europeans.

The journal continued to be published during the war, even though the topics revolved around the upheavals of the time: Germany's interests in Africa, the impact of the war on trade, etc. An article by General Jan Christiaan Smuts on the unity of South Africa is also remarkable in which he considered the British and Dutch settlers in South Africa, but only viewed colored people as a disruptive factor. Thirty years later, apartheid policy developed from this basic attitude .

During this time the readership of the journal increased, the society tried to make up for the losses of the war by recruiting members and to improve the financial situation of the society. Funded by the member of the board of directors, Henry Wellcome , an award was donated, the Medal of the African Society. The first to be honored was the outgoing President of the Society, Harry Johnston .

The tone of voice in the journal was still largely condescendingly racist, but the first voices began calling for African participation in government in the region. Even as scientists began to study Africa more seriously and with more love for the truth, the Society's medals continued to be given to whites and the voice of Africa was not heard in the journal.

Second World War

In the early 1930s African names first appeared in the journal, as participants in conferences on children in Africa or on the status of Christian proselytizing. The harbingers of the Second World War also left their mark on the journal. But one also discovers the beginnings of African self-government, which can be seen between the indirect government of the time. Also for the first time Africans speak in the journal, for example Nnamdi Azikiwe with an article on school education in Africa ( How Shall We Educate the African? ).

Except for an article against Italian aggression against Ethiopia by E. Abraham, Secretary of the Royal Ethiopian Embassy, ​​in which he called on the so-called civilized world to help within the framework of the League of Nations , the Second World War had little influence on the journal until 1940. The appeal was in vain and the journal turned back to the usual topics of trade and proselytizing. In 1940 the rationing of paper brought cuts and, also caused by the war, the number of members fell from 841 in 1940 to 754 in just one year.

In the journal you can find more and more articles about organizations that were formed in Africa as a result of the war. The newfound admiration is diminished by the increasingly urgent calls for self-government in Africa. Because despite all the changes there are still voices in the journal who express themselves racist and derogatory towards Africans.

African Affairs

In 1945 the current name of the journal is mentioned for the first time: African Affairs . The journal reflects ever more clearly the African desire for self-government. At the same time, other active branches of society are emerging and are now organizing events in various cities across the UK. By 1950 the East-West conflict permeated the pages of the magazine and the increasing influence of Russia in Africa was felt. At the same time, the voices of Africans are becoming more confident and louder. Despite this, apartheid politics prevailed in South Africa after the National Party's election victory.

The 50th anniversary of the society was celebrated in 1951 with many publications in Africa and Great Britain. The company celebrated itself while the tone of the journal was still condescending. But by the 1950s, Africa's voices in the journal began to get louder too. African scholars discussed European issues of decolonization and state independence . And on March 26, 1957, the Society held a party in memory of Ghana's independence .

The sixties and seventies

In the 1960s the journal was mostly concerned with day-to-day business, in other words for Great Britain with the loss of virtually all colonies . The changes of the world penetrated society as well and in 1965 there were not only African members of society, but also Africans on the board of directors. Considerations to unite with other societies to form countries of the Empire and the Commonwealth were discarded and the focus on Africa remained.

A Society for African Studies (African Studies Association, ASA) was established, which was independent of membership in the RAS. The relationship of the ASA with the RAS deepened and African Affairs published the reports of the annual meeting of the ASA in 1965. In 1967 Oxford University Press took over the publishing house of Afrikan Affairs.

In 1963 the company's statutes were changed to meet the requirements of a charitable foundation. In 1935 the society was given the attribute "Royal". But now they tried to get a Royal Charter , which was also granted on May 21, 1968.

While the problems of apartheid were being discussed in South Africa in the 1970s, the number of members of the society declined, so that financial difficulties forced cooperation with various other organizations. Various events were jointly organized with the Royal Commonwealth Society , and good relationships with other organizations enabled the business to continue while the membership of the society shrank.

The eighties and nineties

The company's financial problems remained unsolved. Donations from various companies made it possible to survive. The introduction of corporate memberships improved revenues, but with so little money there was little more to do than organize meetings. In 1980 the RAS could hardly be distinguished from the ASA, with which it was still working closely.

In the 1990s the situation improved with regular donations, so that a history of the company was approved in advance of the 100th anniversary celebration. The Mary Kingsley Lecture was introduced and African scholars also spoke regularly at the Society's conferences. Support also came from SOAS University of London , where the society is housed to this day.

2000 and beyond

In 2002 the former Africa editor of The Economist was appointed Executive Director of the company. Associated with his arrival is a renewed interest in Africa and thus a rejuvenation of the RAS. He introduced "business breakfasts" for organizational members, where business people can exchange ideas with politicians. The company's cultural programs support the first African Film Festival and other cultural events.


Due to the close ties to the Center of African Studies at the University of London, the RAS offices are also located there. The activities of the member society are mainly concerned with establishing communication between different groups. Therefore

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn unknown: A History. In: Website of the Royal African Society. Royal African Society, accessed December 6, 2019 .
  2. a b c unknown: About Us. In: Website of the Royal African Society. Royal African Society, accessed December 6, 2019 .
  3. unknown: The Royal African Society. Publisher Description. In: website of jstor. JSTOR, accessed December 6, 2019 .
  4. a b JD Fage: When the African Society Was Founded, Who Were the Africanists? In: African Affairs . Vol. 94, No. 376 , June 1995, p. 369-381 .
  5. a b unknown: Royal African Society. In: SOAS University of London website. SOAS University of London, accessed December 6, 2019 .