History of LSE and Africa

LSE has from its very foundation in 1895 been deeply involved with Africa and African issues. Established just four years before the outbreak of the Boer War, the School was rapidly caught up in the debates of the time, with many taking a strongly anti-colonial line. In the inter-war period scholars such as Professors Charles Seligman and E A Westermarck found in Africa a focus for their path-breaking field work in anthropology.

For many South Africans, LSE also meant the opportunity for learning that apartheid denied them in their own country.



LSE, as part of the University of London, was in the vanguard of the great army of men and women across the world who responded to the call to isolate the apartheid regime. They insisted that human rights are the rights of all people everywhere. I feel greatly honoured to have an honorary degree from the University of London. Today brings an opportunity to thank LSE in person and with all humility for the part it played in that tribute to the South African people for their achievement in turning from conflict to the peaceful pursuit of a better life for all.

For many South Africans, LSE also meant the opportunity for learning that apartheid denied them in their own country. Those who were students are now working in all sectors of our society, leaders of a nation, leading a bright and common future. We continue to draw upon you for training and knowledge in fields that are critical to the development of our country. May your practical solidarity and our partnership long continue. Your invitation to me to reflect with you on the challenges facing Africa speaks of your continuing commitment to our shared goals and I thank you most sincerely.

Nelson Mandela speaking at LSE, 2000

It was not until after the Second World War that LSE came into its own as a focus for progressive thinking on Africa. Among the leaders who studied at the School were Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya; Kwame Nkrumah, Hilla Limann and John Atta Mills of Ghana; Sylvanus Olympio of Togo and Veerasamy Ringadoo of Mauritius.

In 1975 the distinguished US commentator (and later senator) Daniel Patrick Moynihan was moved to observe with some degree of national envy (in an article in Commentary) that LSE “was often said to be the most important institution of higher education in…Africa”. Certainly its student body has been unusually cosmopolitan for decades: in 1956, for example, the 144 Africans at the School outnumbered students from mainland Europe.

former LSE students who went on to be Presidents of their country
LSE alumni who went on to lead their respective countries; Clockwise from top left: Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Sylvanus Olympio (Togo), John Atta Mills (Ghana), Hilla Limann (Ghana) and Veerasamy Ringadoo (Mauritius)

The part played by LSE in the anti-apartheid struggle, one so generously recognised by Nelson Mandela on his visit to the School in 2000, flowed out of this long tradition of progressive and anti-imperialist thinking. Without any history of involvement in nineteenth century colonialism, the School came of age just when many of its alumni were leading the struggle for freedom and independence, and was able to play an institutional part in these changes of which it remains very proud.

Modern Day Engagement
Building on this long, historic association, in 2008, LSE held the first African Climate Change Forum in Kigali in collaboration with the government of the Republic of Rwanda. This proved to be one of the catalysts for the LSE Africa Initiative, which was galvanised in September 2009 when Professor Thandika Mkandawire, an eminent figure in African development, joined LSE as its first Chair of African Development.

Professor Thandika Mkandawire

The Africa Initiative sought, in various ways, to reinvigorate African research at LSE and to place a fresh focus on Africa in the social sciences – and to share this research internationally.

This was partly accomplished through Africa Talks, a series of high-profile events that is part of the LSE public lecture programme. The series creates a platform for African voices to inform and transform the global debate.

Through the African Visiting Research Fellowship programme, African scholars have an opportunity to immerse themselves in the academic life of the School.

Programme for African Leadership
The Programme for African Leadership (PfAL) was established at the LSE to foster a new generation of ethical, effective and authentic African leaders who are committed to promoting economic development social and political progress in Africa. PfAL began in 2012 as an intensive three-week programme targeted at mid-career professionals and has since developed into a programme that runs across the full academic year at LSE.

Students from the 2015/16 PfAL Cohort
Photo by Owen Billcliffe

The programme brings together LSE graduate students from sub-Saharan Africa each month for a networking and leadership programme focused on values, developing leadership skills and collaboration.

Candidates who successfully complete the programme at LSE are invited to join the PfAL Network and so gain access to the experience, advice, support and feedback of their peers and other PfAL alumni across the continent. The network currently comprises of over 180 members across 26 African countries. In January 2016, the first LSE PfAL Forum, which brought together PfAL members across various cohorts, was held in Kampala, Uganda.

Academic Partnership with UCT
Another positive development has been the increase of interdisciplinary collaboration both internally within the School and externally, including with the University of Cape Town (UCT) which became LSE’s fifth institutional partner in May 2010.

Through this partnership, both institutions host the LSE-UCT July School which takes place in Cape Town annually. LSE has also established a PhD Student Exchange programme with UCT. This programme allows our research students to visit UCT to benefit from additional research resources (archival and advisory) and to experience the academic culture and professional networks of another country.

Africa at LSE blog
In June 2011, the Africa at LSE blog was launched to showcase Africa-themed research on real world dilemmas produced by LSE academics.

Professor Sylvia Chant of LSE Geography explores signs of separation and symbiosis in the Gambia Diaspora for the Africa at LSE blog © Sylvia Chant

The blog, which hosts contributions from LSE academics, students and alumni, has rapidly gained a following beyond academic circles as it covers issues ranging from development to religion and politics to human rights.

LSE Africa Summit
Global leaders, policy-makers, investors and researchers convened at LSE in April 2014 for the first student-led Africa Summit with the theme, African Entrepreneurship.

The Nigeria Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was the keynote speaker at the student-run 2015 LSE Africa Summit

LSE has continued to be a place with landmark research on the African continent in the fields of including anthropology, development, geography, economics, health, international relations, politics, social policy and social psychology.

Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa
Under the leadership of Professor Tim Allen, the Firoz Lalji  Centre for Africa was launched in 2016 with the purpose of amplifying African issues and perspectives at LSE and beyond.

Around 140 LSE scholars include Africa among their research interests.