Ineke van Kessel

Ineke van Kessel  joined the ASC in 1988 after a career in journalism, where her interest in sub-Sahara Africa was first awakened. She maintained a keen interest in current affairs, but also developed an appetite for historical research. When she retired in 2013, she had completed extensive work on the democratic transition in South Africa and the role of social movements in ending apartheid.  The subject of her Ph. D thesis, defended in 1995, was the United Democratic Front, a broad umbrella movement of hundreds of organisations that combined forces in 1983 to coordinate protest and resistance against the apartheid state.       She also wrote a popular history book in Dutch on Nelson Mandela (2010). The vicissitudes of South African politics after the ANC’s advent to power were closely followed in a range of publications, including an annual chapter on South Africa in the Africa Yearbook.

Her historical interests focused mainly on the Gold Coast and the relations between the Gold Coast and the Netherlands. Her research on the history of the Black Dutchmen (Belanda Hitam), West African soldiers in the Dutch East Indies Army, resulted in a book in Dutch, with a translation in Bahasa Indonesia and numerous articles in English, Dutch and French. It formed the basis of a successful exhibition in the Royal Tropical Museum in Amsterdam in 2005 which subsequently travelled for several years to quite a few Dutch museums. The amazing story of the African soldiers in the Dutch colonial army, thus far largely unknown, aroused considerable media interest in the Netherlands and beyond. It also proved a popular subject for presentations to audiences with roots in Indonesia. In Ghana, where this history was virtually unknown, she assisted with the founding of the Elmina-Java Museum, opened in 2003 by Ghanaian descendants of corporal Manus Ulzen, one of the first African recruits from Elmina to sign up for the colonial army in 1832.

Besides her scientific research and publications, Ineke van Kessel remained involved in journalistic work for Dutch media, following African current affairs for the monthly magazine Onze Wereld (now defunct) for more than 15 years. Journalistic experience proved a boon in reaching out to audiences beyond academia.  This experience also proved valuable in advising the African Studies Centre on its public relations policies and practices and its outreach to mass media. At the ASC, she served for more than 10 years as member of the seminar committee, co-organising seminar and conference programs. She was one of the co-organisers (with Nina Tellegen) of the public festivities around the 50th anniversary of the ASC in 1998, which included a very well attended public event around the theme of Africans in the Netherlands, with considerable attendant publicity in the media. Subsequently she edited a book in Dutch on the different African communities in the Netherlands.

After her retirement in 2013 she remained involved with student supervision, some teaching and a bit of journalism, while continuing her research on contemporary South Africa and 19th century Gold Coast history.

Honorary fellow
African Studies Centre
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