Next week: the EthicsLab launch in Yaoundé

by Ingrid Robeyns on March 16, 2019

Next week, the EthicsLab is launched in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. This is a new research center on ethics and public policy at the Université Catholique d’Afrique Centrale, which aims to foster research on these issues in Central Africa. The launching is a big event, with one week of workshops as well as a conference where ethicists and political philosophers from around the world come together to help the EthicsLab build its research agenda.

The driving force behind the EthicsLab is Dr. Thierry Ngosso, currently a Berggruen Fellow at the J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, who has been working towards this launch for many years. I am in absolute admiration of how he has managed to get this together – given that he did this as a PhD-student and subsequently during a series of temporary postdocs positions. But Thierry has been very smart and very patient, building this step by step, first organising a series of Summerschools with help of his (local and international) friends, and then taking the next step to launch the EthicsLab.

For me, as a European participant to this event, I also feel very excited about getting to know so many political philosophers and ethicists who are based in Africa. The list of participants consists of a mixture of philosophers from different African countries, or African philosophers working outside Africa, as well as international (mainly American and European) colleagues. It’s not surprising that we know colleagues from nearby places better than from further away places. But still, I know more international colleagues from the US, Canada and Australia than from Africa or Latin-America: resources, and possibly also language, matter too.

So, three cheers for the EthicsLab, and wishing them lots of success in strengthening ethics and political philosophy in Central Africa!



James Landry 03.17.19 at 2:38 am

What is the position of the EthicsLab on the ongoing killings in Anglophone Cameroon or the recent arrest of Maurice Kamto, given it is headquartered in Cameroon?


Matt 03.18.19 at 4:03 am

I’m very excited to see interaction between African and US/European philosophers, and hope it will be a good start – the line up looks great – but I am also interested in the event taking place given the current situation in Cameroon. At one point I kept track of it a bit, because I had done a small amount of work on asylum cases for people claiming to be persecuted by the Cameroonian government, but I hadn’t kept track for some time. There is an informative article for those who might be interested here:

It’s hard for me to know how people taking part in events and organizations like this should think or feel about unpleasant political situations in the host countries, but it seems like it’s worth thinking and talking about – it does also seem like it might not be completely safe for people to talk about it in Cameroon, and if so, that’s pretty troubling, but I’m not an expert on the situation.


MFB 03.19.19 at 7:06 am

So, a private university in part funded by American banks, associated with French neo-colonial academic practices, rooted in the highly repressive Catholic religion (admittedly less repressive than American fundamentalism in central Africa) and focussing its attention on the linguistic group which is oppressing the other linguistic group in the country, is (at the inception of an American-based scholar) setting up an “ethics laboratory” whose main job is criticising African governments as opposed to the enormously ethical governments of Trump, May and Macron.

Is it necessary to be cynical, or has it all been done for me already?


Ingrid Robeyns 03.23.19 at 3:31 pm

There is no reason at all to be cynical, except to become cynical about the predictable cynical comments that initiatives like this seem to trigger. An African scholar started dreaming about connecting bright African young scholars to the brightest minds in his field (ethics and political philosophy) in the world. He makes great personal sacrifices (he was often not able to live with his family) and professional sacrifices (he could have written so many scholarly papers, but instead spent his time organising academic events on ethics and political philosophy in a region in which there is very little of that). He had support of many well-recognised and established ethics centers in the world. Rather than pursuing his own personal carrier, he is making changes for the better for academia (and beyond) in Africa. This is what many African countries need: institution building. But only, since the government doesn’t do it, it’s done bottom-up – by the vision of one man, who gathered a lot of support from his colleagues locally and internationally, and afterwards also from the local university. Would we rather want all those bright minds to take up positions in the US?
The attitude of the African scholars that were present this week was hugely critical of both their own governments as well as international relations and structures. The entire conference was bi-lingial. A lot of connections were made between scholars from different African countries and scholars from the US, Canada, various European countries. In short, it was a huge succes – and they will eventually be a force for the better in this region in Africa. And yes, they are dealing with the failures of their own governments, and I am sure as these scholars make themselves more indispensable they will also be able to become more critical. But one has to understand the very difficult local circumstances in which scholars, in particular ethicists and political philosophers have to work here, in order to see what is feasible in the short run and what will only be feasible after a while.


Matt 03.23.19 at 8:40 pm

Thanks, Ingrid – I’m very glad to hear that the conference was a success, and hope the center will continue to thrive – and of course hope that it will have the chance to do so.


Tabasco 03.24.19 at 3:42 am

So, a private university in part funded by American banks, associated with French neo-colonial academic practices, rooted in the highly repressive Catholic religion …

The horror, the horror.

Why do people who wish to express disagreement in the form of indignation begin their sentences beginning with So,? The practice is faintly ridiculous.

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