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Report: Africa's 1st Continental Psychology Congress

The 18th of September 2017 marked the opening ceremony of the Pan-African Psychology Union (PAPU) Congress in Durban, South Africa.

Organised in collaboration with the Psychological Society of South Africa (Psyssa), the event was regarded as a first for psychology in Africa. It brought together academics from across Africa, America and Europe to exchange ideas, such as what it means to construct an African psychology, decolonisation and African identity and community.

“This convening of psychology leaders marks a turning point for the African continent, as a critical hub of psychological thinking and practice. African psychologists have played, and continue to play, a key role in charting more humane futures – both in Africa and across the world,” says Prof Saths Cooper, president of Papu.

The opening ceremony provided an optimistic discussion of an African centred psychology as different key note speakers took to the stage to share their thoughts. Of particular interest was the comments made by Dr Hussien Bulhan, founder of the Frantz Fanon University in Somali.

During his speech, Dr Bulhan explained that he is currently the only member of the Psychological Association in Somali, which earned varying amounts of sympathy from the crowd. However, this was soon replaced by thunderous applause as he announced that the first crop of medical, psychiatry and psychology students will be graduating at the end of this year.

The conference ran from the 19th to the 22nd of September and for many the time seemed limited. The first sessions of the day started at 08:30 am and the last session finished at 16:45pm. During this time, delegates and speakers alike had to manage their time in order to make the most out of the experience as the programme was jam-packed with a variety of interesting paper presentations, workshops, symposiums and documentary screenings.

Broader topic themes included clinical psychology, educational psychology, public health, indigenous knowledge, trauma, forgiveness, gender and sexuality. As the theme of the conference was centred on Pan-Africanism, many of the presentations focused on psychosocial problems in Africa, while the symposiums provided spaces to have discussions concerning the development of Pan-African psychology, the challenges faced by this development, decolonising psychology and establishing African centred research and Afro centrism.

Another interesting moment was what took place on the last day, during a symposium focused on affirming an African epistemology and practice as an act of decolonisation. The speakers, who identified as African and Afro-American, invited traditional African healers to cleanse the room before the discussion began.

It was interesting and soul-pleasing to witness and be a part of a space where people present were open to embracing African identity and diversity through the discussion and cultural practices. The focus of this discussion was about diverting western understandings of time and space to focus more on understanding the energies that connect us all. That in itself made a far more striking impact than anything else.

This conference was a definitive stepping stone to opening up discussion and making room for new ideas that promote African forms of knowledge and challenge traditional mainstream psychological perspectives. However, only time will tell how the practice of psychology in Africa will be influenced by organisations such as PAPU.

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