A year ago, on March 10, 2019, the Carleton University community suffered the loss of Pius Adesanmi, a well-loved and respected professor in the Institute of African Studies, a mentor to his students, a friend to his colleagues, a pillar of Ottawa’s African community and a loving father and husband.

Adesanmi was on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 that crashed minutes after takeoff in Addis Ababa.

In the weeks that followed this tragic news, a celebration of life was held at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre, providing the Carleton community with the opportunity to honour Adesanmi’s life. His family, students, colleagues and members of Ottawa’s African diplomatic community paid their respects through tributes, poetry, drumming and singing.

Born in Nigeria in 1972, Adesanmi completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Ilorin, and his master’s at the University of Ibadan, both in Nigeria. He came to Canada for his PhD in French Studies, graduating from the University of British Columbia in 2002.

Adesanmi joined Carleton in 2006 and was an integral part of the groundswell that led to the founding of the Institute for African Studies (IAS). In this role, he shared his boundless passion for African literature and valued the opportunity to connect with and support students.

Adesanmi’s work was propelled by his hope for a Pan-African future.

His first book, Wayfarer and Other Poems published in 2001, won the Association of Nigerian Authors prize for poetry. His 2010 book, You’re Not a Country Africa, won the Penguin Prize for African Literature. The remarkable collection of essays tried to unravel what Africa meant to him as an African and pull apart the enigma that is the continent.

A subsequent celebrated book of essays on Nigerian politics and culture, Naija No Dey Carry Last: Thoughts on a Nation in Progress, was named to Channels Book Club’s prestigious list of the best 15 Nigerian books of 2015.

Less than a year after his sudden death, a new book – Wreaths for a Wayfarer: An Anthology in Honour of Pius Adesanmi – an assemblage of more than 250 poems by established and emerging African writers, was produced in his memory.

His portfolio of keynote lectures included appearances on such prestigious platforms as the Stanford Forum for African Studies, the Africa Talks Series of the London School of Economics, the Obafemi Awolowo Foundation’s annual lecture series, the Vanderbilt History Seminar, the International Leadership Platform of the University of Johannesburg, the African Unity for Renaissance Series of the Africa Institute of South Africa, and the annual talk series of the Academy of Science of South Africa.

He was a member of the Diaspora Consultation series of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in New York. In 2013-2014, he was a Carnegie Diaspora Visiting Professor of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, where he designed the African Thinkers’ Program of UG-Ghana’s Institute of African Studies. He had since remained an annual facilitator of seminars at the University of Ghana’s Pan-African Doctoral Academy.

He was a founding faculty member of the Abiola Irele School of Theory and Criticism at Kwara State University, Nigeria.

Adesanmi received the 2017 Board of Director’s Leadership Award by the Canadian Bureau for International Education for demonstrating exceptional leadership in internationalizing Canadian education and/or advancing the international education profession at the national or international level.

He also conceived the Continental Forum on the Role of the Diaspora in Higher Education, Research and Innovation in Africa and applied to the Carnegie Corporation of New York for funding in 2018. Within days of his tragic death, the IAS was informed that the Carnegie Corporaton would fund the initiative. The successful forum took place in Addis Ababa in November 2019. L. Pauline Rankin, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and several Carleton representatives attended the forum where Adesanmi’s absence was painfully felt.

“What was remarkable about the conference was the ease with which this diverse collection of participants agreed upon the recommendations submitted to the African Union and a shared vision of the path forward,” said Rankin. “The enthusiasm at the conference for continuing to support and expand diaspora engagement with African universities was a fitting tribute to Pius’s lifelong commitment to higher education on the continent.”

To honour Prof. Adesanmi’s legacy, a memorial fund was established to support students at Carleton University and continue his life’s work.

A year later, the Carleton community continues to remember an irreplaceable educator, thinker and friend.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020 in
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