The University of Nairobi’s Institute for Development Studies (IDS) on Tuesday (October 8, 2019) celebrated the institute’s (IDS) Founder’s Day, exactly 54 years after it was founded in 1965. In the small event that brought together Directors, Professors, former Directors, alumni and current students, media and other associates of IDS, memories were shared, ideas were pitched and a future forged.

From right to left: The Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Prof Enos Njeru, former IDS Directors Prof Kabiru Kinyanjui, Prof Shem E. Migot-Adholla, and Prof Patrick Alila and IDS Associate Dr George Ruigu.

The event was all about reconnecting with the past, which was realized by interacting with IDS elders and founders of the institute and discussing how to move forward. It was punctuated by stories from the elders and an interesting presentation on African Economic Geography by Dr Mary Kinyanjui.

To celebrate the day, the institute’s current Director, Prof. Karuti Kanyinga presented the ‘Usable Past’ framework, an idea generated to encourage the use of the past to shape the present and the future. This framework, according to Prof. Kanyinga, focuses on understanding the role of the past in shaping the present context and in predicting the future, as it is employed to deconstruct the challenges of colonialism.

IDS Director Prof Karuti Kanyinga delivers keynote address during the IDS 54th anniversary (pictures by Peter Oluoch).

This ‘Usable Past’ concept was conceived early this year after Prof. Kanyinga was appointed Director of IDS. Confronted with challenges like what was he going to do better at IDS, bringing back the glory that was associated with IDS on theories of development globally and finding out why University research is no longer influencing change in the society led Prof. Kanyinga to review theoretical frameworks that would help explain how the past can help to shape the future.

The IDS has since its founding focused on three forms of research; long term research on economic problems in Kenya and the region, research on immediate and pressing policy-relevant issues and provision of advisory services to government ministries. A review of archival records shows great contributions by scholars at the IDS to economic and political developments in the country. The IDS has also been home to several Nobel laureates including James Tobin, Michael Todaro and Bethwel Ogot among others. Not forgetting the fact that IDS research has shaped many ideas on development in the region including the Kenya Debate which focused especially on whether it was possible for development to happen in the periphery. There were also many studies on the employment sector, the question of the wage bill among others, which informed government thinking and positions on some of these issues at the time.

IDS has embarked on the process to develop a strategy which will reflect the unique development challenges facing Kenya, Africa and the world in general. IDS hopes to launch the agenda by 8th October 2020. IDS will focus on the following four areas of research; governance and the political economy of development, inclusive development: economic and social dimensions, climate change, natural resources, environmental management and development and finally economy, international processes and development. Themes of sustainable development, gender, women empowerment and development run through all four future areas of research.

The IDS will engage development researchers, practitioners, and policymakers among others to maximise the policy impact of research and also identify drivers of change. IDS shall share data and research projects/ information via public seminars/ debates, publication/ dissemination of research, and conduct national surveys and innovative knowledge products.

IDS swears to embed public debates and discussions on key issues facing the country and ideas about drivers of change and hope that the government will support the institute in their activities.

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