On September 6, 2018, the Boston University African Studies Center and Pardee School of Global Studies welcomed the Ambassador of the African Union to the United States, H.E. Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, for a discussion of building productive partnerships among the African diaspora, the academic community, and the African Union. The Ambassador was accompanied by her colleague Mr. Tarek Ben Youseff. The all-day engagement included meetings with the Pardee School and African Studies Center leadership, presentations and class visits, and one-on-one and group conversations with Boston University scholars and students, as well as members of the African Diaspora. The day culminated with the Pardee Policy Leaders Forum – an event series bringing senior international policymakers to Boston University for important policy conversations with BU faculty and experts.
The African Union is an intergovernmental organization that seeks to achieve greater unity and solidarity among African countries and Africans, as well as encourage international cooperation and popular participation in governance. It advances collaboration between the diaspora, academic community, and policy makers for mobilizing the African diaspora in support of major U.S.-Africa policy initiatives. The Ambassador’s visit to the BU African Studies Center built on her history of collaboration with the Diaspora Studies Initiative of the ASC that included the 2017 Boston African Diaspora Coalition Roundtable as well as related engagements. These initiatives focused on facilitating joint engagement among diaspora communities in the New England area, and building networking and communication platforms for diaspora involvement in Africa’s economies and societies.
During her visit to Boston University, Ambassador Chihombori-Quao met with Dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies and Professor of International Relations and Earth and Environment Adil Najam, Associate Dean and Professor of International Relations and Political Science William Grimes, as well as had conversations with several Pardee School faculty members, including former director of BU African Studies Center and Professor of Political Science Timothy Longman. “It was an honor to meet Ambassador Chihombori-Quao during her visit to the Pardee School,” said Prof. Grimes. “I was especially impressed by her ideas about the role of the African diaspora in the continent’s economic and political development.”
Director of the Boston University African Studies Center and Professor of Anthropology Fallou Ngom highlighted the value of the Ambassador’s visit to advancing a better understanding of the African diaspora among Boston University students and scholars: “As we seek to engage the African diaspora in America, the AU Ambassador’s visit was both timely and important. I was very impressed by both her in-depth understanding of the political history of Africa that explains the roots of many challenges in the continent, and her path-breaking initiatives, especially the Centers of Excellence that could produce sufficiently mentally decolonized Africans capable of laying enduring foundations of a new thriving Africa with its right place in the world geopolitics. It was an honor meeting the Ambassador and her colleague. I am most grateful.“ The AU Ambassador was hosted at the African Studies Center by Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor of the Diaspora Studies Initiative, and Dr. Eric Schmidt, Assistant Director of ASC.
In the afternoon, Ambassador Chihombori-Quao delivered a powerful presentation in the class session that included African Studies Center students, faculty, our diaspora partners, as well as Africanist scholars from other area universities – an event jointly organized by the ASC Diaspora Studies Initiative and Professor of Anthropology Parker Shipton. Prof. Shipton emphasized the lively, passionate presence of the Ambassador that extended a friendly and collegial persona to the diverse audience in the room, to much admiration and applause. Commenting on the Ambassador’s extensive experience on the pragmatics of diplomacy, Shipton said: “Combining micro- and macro-scale perspectives in the way the Ambassador did, was something new to just about every one of the mostly seasoned Africanists in the room, as well as to the students. Everyone present was well advised to look back to the history of how the lines on the map of African nations got there: the presumptuous arrogation of powers by the European participants at the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 when the ‘scrambling’ empires did their partitioning as if cutting a cake, with no recorded voices of any African even present. The Ambassador’s account of the layering of insults and injuries to African humankind in the period since then, with its effects on self-esteem and mutual regard among African people themselves, was a sobering picture in itself. By contrast, the progress and the hopes she presented for African unification (as well as for African and North American cooperation) were more uplifting — for instance in the official headway she reported as being made toward freeing up the self-directed movement of people within the continent. Trade agreements discussed made for interesting comparisons with those being attempted, challenged, and revised in the Americas, as well as others in Europe and elsewhere. Her lamenting remarks on the damaging effects of wealth extraction probably resonated for everyone with a cell phone in the pocket containing coltan — to say nothing of the continent’s gold or diamonds. And I think all the diaspora members in the room probably felt the tug she exerted for returning and building professional capacities. Concerning the question of scale, the Ambassador’s optimism about the potential rise in negotiating power of what may become a more united Africa (as different from, say, the power of Togo or Burundi, when in negotiations, say, with the US, with a provisionally united Europe, or with China) seemed realistic enough — if that unification continues.”
Michèle Sigg, Associate Director of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, remarked: “African Union Ambassador Dr. Chihombori-Quao came to Boston University on an ambitious mission. Her first goal is to develop and solidify a friendship between the African Union and the United States that she called ‘Africa’s greatest friend.’ The United States was the one western power that did not show up in 1885 at the Berlin conference to acquire a piece of African territory. Her second goal is to reach out to the African diaspora in the States to counteract the ‘brain drain’ that is taking so many highly qualified African doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and scholars away from Africa where they are sorely needed. She believes that the help of the African diaspora is essential to Africa’s emergence as a unified economy in the near future.”
Other audience members voiced similar sentiments. Mr. Zadi Zokou, a film-maker whose recent documentary BlacknBlack focuses on relationships between African Americans and African immigrants, stated: “As an African from a former French colony, I was aware of the strong control France still holds over my country and its politics and economy. During her final talk, Mrs. Ambassador confirmed what I had noticed, and convinced me of the urgency for us to break the chains that still hold us into colonization.”
Participants also emphasized the value of the activities of the AU Ambassador to diaspora engagement: “For the nascent African Diaspora mobilization efforts, it’s critical to have a central credible entity setting the framework and vision,” said Mr. Emmanuel Owusu of the African Bridge Network. “It’s inspiring to hear the Ambassador Chihombori-Quao at the BU Policy Forum Dinner placing much importance on the value of the African Diaspora in the US as a vital human resource for Africa’s development, and laying out strategies for their mobilization. We look forward to partnering with the Ambassador’s office on our ADEA Initiative to support the African Diaspora who are already engaged in development projects in Africa.”
Inspired and vitalized by the conversations with the AU Ambassador, the Boston University African Studies community is looking forward to new and renewed partnerships towards inclusive engagement with Africa and its Diaspora.
It is with great sadness that we report the death of our good friend and colleague Rodolfo Fattovich, who passed away in Rome on March 23, 2018. Rodolfo was Professor of Ethiopian Archaeology at the University of Naples, “L’Orientale” (formerly the Istituto Universitario l’Orientale) from 1974 until his retirement in 2014. Rodolfo’s distinguished career included archaeological fieldwork in Egypt, the Sudan, and Ethiopia. Fattovich was a pioneer of the “new era” of Ethiopian archaeology that began in the 1970s, and he produced a number of students who are now doing innovative research in the Horn and other parts of Africa. Rodolfo was a frequent visitor to the Boston University African Studies Center and Department of Archaeology, where he had long-standing research collaborations with Kathryn Bard (Aksum and Egypt) and Michael DiBlasi (Aksum). Rodolfo was a unique and unforgettable character. He will be greatly missed by his friends and colleagues.
COME OUT AND JOIN US April 4th at 2 PM for this special talk by Professor Anderson!
Professor Jim McCann has been appointed to chair the History Department. In appointing Professor McCann, Dean Cudd writes: “I am pleased to announce that Prof. James McCann has accepted our invitation to serve as the next Chair of the History Department. He will serve a two- year term. Professor McCann brings to this role both his very distinguished reputation as a scholar of African history and agricultural history, but also his extensive leadership experience in multiple units in the College. We are very grateful for his willingness to serve in this new way.” As he takes on his new role, Professor McCann will continue to work with the African Studies Center and its long-standing collaboration with the Department of History in working with students and common efforts of research, teaching, and service.
Mustapha Kurfi successfully defended his dissertation in sociology on March 19, 2018. His dissertation, titled Religion, Gender and Civil Society: The Role of A Muslim Women’s Association in the Evolution of the Nigerian Society, examines how the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) utilizes effective organizational and networking structures along with a dynamic religious culture to produce empowering opportunities for women to engage in education, social services, and civic life. His findings challenge the stereotypical view that Muslim women lack agency and provide critical insights into broader debates about the role of Muslim women’s religious culture in development discourse and in the global South’s public life. While a graduate student Mustapha served as a Hausa instructor in our African Language Program and also contributed greatly in making BU’s Ajami instructional, digital, and research program unrivaled in the country. Join us in congratulating Dr. Kurfi and wishing him all the best as his bright career in sociology and Islamic studies unfolds!
Join us March 21 at 2:20 PM for a book talk on GOMA: Stories of Strength and Sorrow From Eastern Congo!!! It will be AMAZING!
Location: W.O. Brown Seminar Room – Boston University, African Studies Center
Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 2:20 pm
Speaker Theodore Trefon (Royal Museum of Central Africa) will be presenting GOMA: Stories of Strength and Sorrow From Eastern Congo
A city of more than one million people caught between volcanic eruptions and armed conflict, Goma has come to embody the tragedy that is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Often portrayed by outsiders as a living hell, Goma is seen as a city of promise for many inside the country. Drawing on a rich tapestry of personal narratives, from taxi drivers to market traders, doctors to local humanitarian workers, Goma provides an engaging and unconventional portrait of an African city.
In contrast to the bleak pessimism that dominates much of the writing on Congo, Theodore Trefon and Noël Kabuyaya instead emphasize the resilience, pragmatism, and ingenuity that characterizes so much of daily life in Goma. Resigned and hardened by struggle, the protagonists of the book give the impression that life is neither beautiful nor ugly, but an unending skirmish with destiny. In doing so, they offer startling insights into the social, cultural, and political landscape of this unique African city.
A BLACK HISTORY MONTH CELEBRATION OF DIASPORA PAN-AFRICANISM
The African American Artists in Residence Center (AAMARP) in Jamaica Plain welcomed community groups to a Boston African Diaspora Coalition meeting on February 26, 2018. The celebratory event, which focused on African Diaspora Innovation and Entrepreneurship, brought together African Diaspora activists, young technology entrepreneurs, artists and academics. It was co-organized by the Boston Pan-African Forum and Boston University Diaspora Studies Initiative and co-sponsored by AAMARP and the Progressive African Network (PAN).
The event provided a productive venue for panel discussions and informal conversations around social and technological innovation and the role of the Diaspora as important facilitators of African innovation and knowledge on the continent and globally. Conversations built on the initiative started at the Boston African Diaspora Roundtable a year ago where the African Union Ambassador to the U.S. called on the New England diaspora community to focus on constructing unifying institutional and technological platforms to enhance diaspora engagement in the development of communities here and in their countries of origin. In the course of a series of subsequent meetings at Boston University and MIT over the past year, the Boston African Diaspora Coalition, with its thematic sub-groups, was formed to facilitate communication among area professionals and activists and to enable systematic networking and sharing of knowledge and expertise.
Panelists highlighted the role of the African diaspora as a mediator of innovation and knowledge exchange. Dr. Fallou Ngom, Director of Boston University’s African Studies Center (BU ASC), delivered a powerful message about the importance of preserving and researching African indigenous systems of knowledge and literacy and incorporating these cosmologically-important cultural understandings in the formal systems of education and epistemology. Ngom also reflected on his experience as a long-time sender of remittances to his family and relatives in Africa, highlighting the spiritual dimensions of that important informal system of support so central to many Africans’ livelihoods. Dr. Jemadari Kamara of the Center for African, Caribbean and Community Development of UMASS Boston talked about the history of Pan-Africanism in the communities of the United States and highlighted the need to promote and consolidate these constituencies within the frequently challenging and divisive environments of the present day. Dr. Joyce Hope Scott, President of Boston Pan-African Forum (BPAF) reflected on her transnational work on reparations and social justice among the communities of the African diaspora and BPAF’s role as an advocacy group focused on educating the community about the Pan Africanist agenda and issues affecting continental Africa and its diasporas.
Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor of the Diaspora Studies Initiative of BU ASC discussed social and technological platforms for facilitating diaspora engagement and networking and their potential for contributing to the various countries of origin. She highlighted the existence of a multitude of vibrant innovation initiatives among the African diaspora community that aim to advance transnational communication and circulation of knowledge and resources – including digital remittance platforms, social media, crowd-funding initiatives, and novel ICT-based educational products and services. Rodima-Taylor also explored the role of academic area studies centers in facilitating inclusive social and institutional platforms for diaspora networking, mutual learning, and policy engagement, for managing ties with community partners in Africa, and promoting knowledge exchange relating to innovation and technology. Mr. Leonard Tshitenge of the Progressive African Network talked about the need to understand the still existing disconnect between the area technology innovation hubs and local communities of color and diversity. He highlighted the role of the quarterly African Business Networking events and other public platforms as well as social media in generating awareness about the contributions of local African entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovators and facilitating connections and networking. Tshitenge pointed out the crucial role of diaspora activists and platforms in creating ‘systems of dialogue and solidarity’ that enable the building of more sustainable bridges to the young people interested in technology and entrepreneurship initiatives on the African continent.
Mr. Jeff Siaw of Africans in Boston brought examples of digital technology initiatives among the African diaspora that facilitate connections with communities in Africa, including innovative e-commerce and digital remittance platforms and the driving role of young entrepreneurs in these. Young music technology entrepreneur Mr. Tyrie Daniel from the Loop Lab – a cloud-based collaborative music studio and podcast station based in Cambridge – reflected on the organization’s experience with this highly successful innovative technology initiative and talked about their efforts to launch a creative safe-space of training for young adults where they can learn the technology to digitally share stories, music and news in their communities.
Discussions during the question and answer period also foregrounded other innovation initiatives within the African diaspora, as well as in the African communities of origin, and joint solutions were sought to frequently-occurring problems of exploitative appropriation of indigenous knowledge and innovation resources. Participants highlighted the important mediating role of culturally and socially competent diaspora in transnational knowledge transmission and exchange. The group decided on the importance of formalizing the Boston African Diaspora Coalition as a network of activists/academic groups and agreed to hold one key cultural event every year as a way to advance Pan African advocacy and the work of the various organizations of the network.
Engaging the Diaspora for the Development of their Homelands: Diaspora Philanthropy Summit and African Diaspora Braintrust
The Boston University Diaspora Studies Initiative (BU DSI) has partnered with the Charities Aid Foundation of America and Charities Aid Foundation of Canada in organizing the Diaspora Philanthropy Summit that took place on November 2 and 3, 2017, in Alexandria, VA. The Summit brought together individuals and groups from diasporas originating from various emerging and developing economies, to discuss diaspora charitable activities to support their countries of origin. Daivi Rodima-Taylor of BU DSI facilitated a session that focused on mediating tensions and building diaspora unity for charitable giving. The session explored cross-border as well as intra-diaspora perspectives of mobilizing diaspora support to their homelands, with an emphasis on the increasingly prevalent settings of violent conflict and forced displacement. The Summit was attended by several partners and collaborators of BU DSI from among African and Albanian diaspora groups. The delegates also included representatives from Jamaican, Indian, Hmong, Bulgarian, and other diasporas. The Summit constituted a productive venue for sharing knowledge and experience around the issues of diaspora philanthropy from applied, policy-oriented, as well as academic perspectives.
BU DSI also continued its collaboration with the African Union. Dr. Rodima-Taylor was an invited presenter at the African Diaspora Braintrust on Sept. 21, convened by the Constituency for Africa and the African Union, and hosted by the African Union Mission to the United States (Washington, DC). The African Diaspora Braintrust centered on strategies to build a constituency to support Africa, in the United States and in the diaspora. The Braintrust presenters – among them Rev. Jesse Jackson and African Union Ambassador to the United States Ms. Arikana Chihombori – shared their perspectives on the efforts to build unity and support Africa, as well as develop strategies for the diaspora to impact U.S.-Africa policy. This event was part of the annual week-long Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series, themed Mobilizing the Diaspora in Support of the US-Africa Agenda. This engagement built on our longitudinal collaboration with the annual African Affairs Series – in the Fall of 2014, Dr. Rodima-Taylor co-organized a day-long African Diaspora and Remittances Forum in the framework of the Series events that included presentations by several Boston area scholars and diaspora groups.
Our work has also continued with facilitating the activities of the Boston African Diaspora Coalition that was formed by a network of local diaspora actors at a meeting that took place at Boston University on June 8. The Diaspora Coalition established thematic working groups among various areas of diaspora professional affiliation and interest, in order to implement the strategies for more focused diaspora engagement that were outlined at the recent Boston African Diaspora Roundtable. Another follow-up meeting of the Diaspora Coalition took place in partnership with the Boston Pan-African Forum on August 27 at MIT.
Global House is a new residential initiative that will bring BU’s individual language houses together in an international living/learning community. Divided into language clusters, undergraduate students will have an opportunity to develop language skills and cultural knowledge through interaction with cluster members, a 1-credit academic course, and a range of co-curricular activities.