On Tuesday, May 29th the Centre for Criminology hosted Ndjodi Ndeunyema, who is a former MSc student at the Centre, a current D. Phil candidate in Law and President of the Oxford Africa Society. Although Ndjodi’s presentation had two focal points, he strategically weaved a coherent narrative on how his current research about intersectional approaches in decolonial thought interrelates to his position as a student activists and his MSc research on sentencing in Africa through the lens of a widely known African philosophy of Ubuntu.
#RhodesMustFall in Oxford, which he was involved in, was a collegiate movement, with a horizontal leadership structure that allowed for students, academics, and wider community members to participate without any restrictions, gaining a great deal of global media coverage in South Africa, the UK, and the U.S in 2015. As Ndjodi explained, the movement addressed several key problems that members of the group thought were impacting the daily lives of students. First, the need for institutions to acknowledge their position in history and the current institutional racism or racist practices that are still in practice. Secondly, the movement helped address the questions of who and what is being celebrated by the Oxford culture and how the representation in the student population and in leadership positions in higher education illustrate that. Lastly, the #RhodesMustFall in Oxford movement created space in academia to question and challenged the priorities of education like the importance of the composition of reading lists. In the halls of academia, whose work is seen as legitimate and worth academic scrutiny and exploration? Why do most Russel Group Institutions have a propensity to answer the previous questions with works from white Eurocentric authors.
Ndjodi’s explanation of the positive effects that followed the #RhodesMustFall in Oxford movement as being powerful catalyst for academic reflection and continuing conversations that challenge traditional academic perspectives and practices became his junction for considering the decolonization of punishment, which was his MSc research. Because the main theories of why governments and societies punish are situated in a model that aligns with English and Anglophone values, Ndjodi posits that these values do not translate well across different African countries.
Ndjodi’s contribution to discussions about sentencing and punishment are based in decolonization of academic and judicial thought. By thinking of ways to decolonize punishment, Ndjodi suggests that in African society Ubuntu should be the guiding philosophy for legal decisions. Ubuntu as a viable, legal philosophy offers a more communal and restorative justice approach. His research led him to investigate New Zealand and how they handle justice in indigenous communities where the law adapts to the surrounding indigenous culture.
The event came to a close with Ndjodi pointing out the positive outcomes of student activism and how that can be redirected, like in his case, to influence academic discussions around a student’s respective topics – criminal justice and sentencing. The benefits of decolonizing academic thought allows for a continuing growth in awareness about class, race, and gender, as well as opportunities for international partnerships between ‘global north’ and ‘global south’ universities. Ndjodi’s reflections on student activism, decolonial thought, and his sentencing case study provided an opportunity for the Centre to delve into the questions of how not only society, but also how universities are still impacted by the legacy of colonialism.