Edmond J. Keller, Research Professor of political science, and former Director of the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa and of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center UCLA, will be retiring after 23 years at UCLA, 30 years total in the UC system. Keller, who specializes in comparative politics with an emphasis on Africa, received his BA in Government from Louisiana State University in New Orleans, and his MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Keller has been a visiting research scholar at the Institute for Development Studies (Nairobi, Kenya), the Bureau of Educational Research (Nairobi), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the Africa Institute of South Africa, and the University of California-Berkeley Institute for International Studies. He has done public policy work with the UN, and consulted on African Development, regional security issues, public policy, and the process of political transitions in Africa. In 2008, Keller was the recipient of the African Studies Association Distinguished Africanist Award. He is the author of Education, Manpower and Development: The Impact of Educational Policy in Kenya (1980); Revolutionary Ethiopia: From Empire to People’s Republic (1988), and Identity, Citizenship and Political Conflict in Africa, Indiana University Press (2014 forthcoming). Described by his students as being knowledgeable and passionate about Africa, politics, and globalization, Keller took time recently to speak with us about his academic career and his plans for retirement.
Ed. How did you end up in political science?
EK. When I finished high school, growing up in the segregated south, I wanted to see the world. So I enlisted for 3 years in the US Army. I was stationed in Germany during the intensification of the Cold War. I was 18 and very impressionable. In 1962-63, I was assigned to the embassy in New Delhi, India. I worked there for four months in a civilian capacity. India was a third world country and that experience introduced me to the poverty in the third world. I wanted to write about those experiences.
Ed. Tell us about your research.
EK. The main research I’m known for is Africa – comparative politics with an emphasis on Africa – particularly my work in Ethiopia. In addition to working in academia, I’ve served on the boards of Oxfam-America, which is an African relief organization, and on board of the advocacy organization, TransAfrica (including as editor of the TransAfrica Forum Journal). I’ve also testified before the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate on Africa and given expert testimony on Ethiopian and Eritrean Asylum cases.
Ed. How did you come to a focus on Africa?
EK. When I returned from India, I wanted to study journalism and write about politics, but I kept being drawn back to my India experience. I decided I wanted to earn an advanced degree studying African and African American politics. There was one black faculty member at Wisconsin who taught public administration. In discussions with the professor, he told me to do what they wanted me to do first –become a broad-gaged political scientist, and then do what I wanted to do, which was study African American politics.
Ed. When did you first go to Africa?
EK. In 1972, I had an opportunity to go to Africa to do research for my dissertation. On my way to Kenya, the first stop was Ethiopia. I stayed there for 2 or 3 days. At the time, Haile Selassie was Emperor. Eventually, we ended up in Kenya and I was with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Nairobi. I spent a year there doing my research and returned to Wisconsin where I received my PhD in 1974.
Ed. What did you do when you came back to America?
EK. When I returned to the states, I got a job teaching at Indiana University. They wanted me to talk about my African research, but they also wanted me to talk fifty percent of the time about African American politics. They wanted to show that the school environment was sensitive to the times. They also insisted that I devote half my time to teaching and doing research on African-American politics.
Ed. When did you travel back to Africa again?
EK. I went back to Africa in 1976, this time to Ethiopia. It was an intense time. I was a researcher with the UN Economic Commission for Africa and Ethiopia was going through a revolution. While I was there, relations between the US and Ethiopia collapsed, and although I was not affiliated with the US government, my family and I were affected. My wife and kids returned to the United States in April of 1977, when Ethiopia went to war with Somalia, and I stayed on at the ECA for another four months or so. From April to July 1977, in connection with my work, I traveled to other countries in East, Central and Southern Africa and then returned to the states.
Ed. How long were you at IU?
EK. I was at IU for 9 years. Then I was recruited to UC Santa Barbara, where I was the Chair of the Department of Black Studies. I was also affiliated with the Department of Political Science for 7 years there before coming to UCLA. I was here for two years as faculty before becoming the Director of the African Studies. At the time, it was the leading program for the study of Africa in the world. I served in that capacity for 10 years and had the opportunity to do administrative work as well as teaching and research. When I stepped down, I established the UCLA Globalization Research Center-Africa collaborating with three other globalization research centers committed to teaching, research and outreach relating to the parts of the world where that was the focus of our particular center, Africa. Following this, I served as Chair of the UCLA Department of Political Science from 2008-2011.
After stepping down from the latter position, I took a sabbatical leave which allowed me, among other things, to finish my latest book, Identity, Citizenship and Political Conflict in Africa, which is being published by Indiana University Press.
I returned from sabbatical in 2012 as a fulltime faculty member, and now I’m getting ready to retire.
Ed. What plans do you have for retirement?
EK. I’m on recall, so I’m going to be teaching two courses a year, one to upper division undergrads and the other agraduate seminar. Also, I will continue to serve on graduate MA and PhD committees. I expect that the rest of my time will be devoted to my Africa research and consulting.
Ed. What are you going to miss the most in retirement?
EK. The intense interaction with grad students and the mentoring of undergrads.
Ed. What will you miss the least?
EK. Committee assignments, and having to inform people about things such as who gets tenure and who doesn’t.
Ed. Well, congratulations on your retirement!
EK. Thanks a lot.