Alinah Kelo Segobye (Selwyn ’88)

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Alinah Kelo Segobye is an archaeologist, social development activist, and African futures thinker and practitioner.

Segobye’s research interests include southern African archaeology, indigenous knowledge systems, heritage studies, and HIV/AIDS. “A deep rooted passion for the [African] continent’s development agenda both past and present” motivates her professional pursuits. 

Segobye was born in Botswana in a village close to Gaborone, the capital city. She went to university at the age of 16 and completed a BA in humanities, focusing on the history and archaeology of the Bantu-speaking people, and MA in secondary education, sponsored by the Botswana government. At 21, she was recruited to the University of Botswana as a staff development Fellow.

In 1988, Segobye met Professor David Phillipson, an archeologist based in Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge. Segobye’s conversation with Professor Phillipson was “life changing,” leading her to apply to Cambridge for an MPhil in African archaeology. Segobye matriculated to Selwyn College in 1988 as a Cambridge Trust Scholar and later pursued a Ph.D., completed in 1994. 

Studying archaeology gave Segobye the resources she needed to critically engage with the African past and contest negative perceptions of Black history in general and southern African history in particular. As a student, she made the most of opportunities for academic enrichment, supported fully by the Department of Archaeology which was distinguished with an international faculty.

She confesses, however, that the texts and theories she encountered while as a student were racialized and contained biases against Africans. In response, as a southern African scholar, Segobye was part of the generation that advocated for the decolonization of various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, which earlier Black Cantabs such as South African anthropologist Archie Mafeje, who studied at Cambridge in the 1960s, was dedicated to advancing as well.  

At a time when South Africa and Namibia were yet to gain their freedom, Segobye found herself not only learning about the past of the African continent as a Cambridge student, but she worked to actively shape its future through campaigns in solidarity with African countries through the Africa-Caribbean Society and the Southern African Students Society. She highlights, for example, activities with the Africa-Caribbean Society to raise awareness about the impact of conflicts and coups on Sierra Leone and Liberia and campaigns to expand scholarship opportunities for African students.

Prominent African artists, including Fela Ransome Kuti and Hugh Masekela, visited Cambridge during Segobye’s time and supported African students as well. Her active involvement in all aspects of Cambridge life ensured that Segobye’s identity as a Black woman never constrained her, instead,  as she expresses in her own words, she gained the self-understanding to “navigate an unequal world and to stand firm in the decolonising of the academy project.”

The college community at Selwyn “warmly welcomed” Segobye. Being a small college, Selwyn allowed her to develop friendships with fellow students, and the staff adequately supported her. Segoe was also a member of the Selwyn chapel, whose Chaplain and Reverend John Sweet and his family frequently invited students to their house or to retreats for spiritual reflection.

Segobye valued this connection to a spiritual community as an international student spending long winter months away from home. The distance was particularly challenging when two of Seboye’s siblings passed away (first in 1988 and then in 1994) while she was a student, marking the most painful periods of an otherwise positive experience at the institution. 

Segobye’s relationship with Cambridge continued past her graduation as she returned to Wolfson College as a Research Fellow in 2004. Her experiences continued to be extremely warm and accepting, as she found that Cambridge appreciated her both “as an international student… and a mature academic.” The rich network that Cambridge can help facilitate for Black students with other Black students and scholars is worth highlighting.

Presently, Segobye often attends conferences at Cambridge to share her research with emerging scholars, and two of her students from Botswana even came to Cambridge to pursue their studies. Additionally, the relationships formed at Cambridge are lifelong; Segobye recounts how one of Selwyn’s fellows from when she was a student there joined her department at the University of Botswana. Further, Cambridge allowed Segobye to establish connections beyond disciplinary and college boundaries, such as her encounter with architecture professor Ola Oduku from Robinson College. 

As a Pan Africanist and Afro-feminist scholar, Segobye has held various roles in academic institutions across the African continent. After her studies at Cambridge, Sebobye returned to the University of Botswana, where she worked until 2012, reaching the position of Associate Professor. From 2005 to 2010, she served as President of the PanAfrican Archaeological Association, allowing her to pursue her intellectual activism outside teaching.

Her journey then took her to South Africa, where she first served as Deputy Executive Director at the Human Sciences Research Council and later joined the University of South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki Africa School of Leadership in 2015. From 2017 to 2021, Segobye was Dean of the Faculty of Human Sciences at the Namibia University of Science and Technology.

Additionally, she was elected to the African Academy of Sciences in 2018 and is also a board member of the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships (ACHAP). Segobye has returned to South Africa as an Extra-ordinary Professor at the North West University.