“We Read for You”
WARC is regularly making the news in the Senegalese capital with all the events lately featured by the Center. Indeed, there is hardly a week that passes without an announcement in the media about a cultural or intellectual event at the West African Research Center.
In order to keep up the pace and diversify its public offerings, WARC recently launched “We Read for You”, a book club organized in collaboration with a young West African professional Bouba Dieme.
Every month, “We Read for You” holds a gathering at WARC featuring a specific book. A speaker knowledgeable about the book and its issues presents a reading and a comprehensive discussion of the book. While the audience may not have read the book, the presentation will allow everyone to grasp the themes, ideas and issues developed in the book and hopefully, will inspire them to get the book and have the pleasure of reading themselves.
The inaugural session of “We Read for You” was held on the afternoon of June 11, 2015 in the new WARC conference room. The book featured for this first session was So Long a Letter, by Mariama Ba. The book was presented by none other than WARC Director Ousmane Sene, who drew attention to issues of style as well as discussing African women writers.
This was followed by lively discussion and questions on Mariama Ba herself, her contribution to African literature, and the still burning issues raised in her masterpiece So Long a Letter.
The event was attended by an audience of 21 people who expressed appreciation of WARC’s leading role in promoting intellectual and cultural vibrancy in the Senegalese capital and other places in West Africa.
A Seminar presented by ACLS African Humanities Fellow, Dr. Ekanade Olumide Victor
Dr. Ekanade Olumide, of the Department of History at Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, was in residence for eight weeks at the West African Research Center (WARC). He was one of two African Humanities Fellows in residence at WARC this spring. The other, Dr. Oluwole Coker, of the English Department at Obafemi Awolwo University, was at WARC for is working on a project entitled, “Navigating the Post-Colony: Engagement Strategies in Post-Independence African Fiction.” The African Humanities Fellows program is funded through the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).
On Thursday, April 9, 2015, Dr. Olumide presented the findings of his research project in a mini-seminar at WARC.
A lot has been written on the economic value of social networks in Informal economies yet so little emphasis is laid on its functionality in the organization of social existence outside the framework of the state. Dr. Olumide’s work examines the evolution and dynamics of diverse associations and their intersecting interactions in Ladipo market. It analyses the plethora of rural cultures imported into the urban setting and how they have shaped social life in Ladipo. Its focus is on the way in which social networks have acted as essential social ingredients that facilitate the success of market relations and in the larger context foster harmonious intergroup relations among Nigerians. Dr. Olumide’s work explores these developments from the perspective of the traders and artisans whose motives and goals are grossly understudied and misrepresented. In Nigeria, these networks have acted as platforms for building bridges across ethnic divides in the fragile and deeply fractured Nigerian state.
Dr. Olumide spoke about the ways in which traders in this informal, multi-ethnic urban market organize their social existence such that there are seamless market and extra market interactions among them. His research also suggests that such a model can be replicated as a template for peaceful coexistence in the larger Nigerian multi-ethnic nation.
Following the presentation, the audience engaged in lively interactions with Dr. Olumide. The questions and comments from the audience represent significant contributions and will no doubt be taken into account as Dr. Olumide pursues his research and prepares a final draft of this particular study. There were ten participants in this seminar.
Who Is African? Reflections on Black and African Identities
A Panel Discussion Marking Black History Month
This year WARA is marking Black History Month with a photography exhibition at the historic Strand Theater in Boston. The exhibition, entitled The Other Side of the Lens, features photos of people and places in the US taken by African born photographers, and photos of people and places in Africa taken by photographers from the diaspora. The exhibition, co-sponsored by WARA and Africans in Boston, is on view for the entire month of February—both at the Strand Theater Gallery and at the YWCA Cambridge.
The opening of The Other Side of The Lens took place on February 4, 2015 and featured an engaging panel of scholars engaging the question “Who is African? Reflections on Black and African Identities” from a variety of perspectives. The panel featured Victoria Massie (UC Berkeley), Charlot Lucien (president, Haitian Artists Assembly of Massachusetts), and Abel Djassi Amado (Boston University).
Mr. Amado, who has been a key player in various WARA programs and projects over the years, acted both as a panelist and moderator. Originally from Cape Verde, he is also part of the New England Cape Verdean community and traced the complex evolution of that community over the centuries—a community that retains its identity both as African and American. Mr. Lucien, President of the Haitian Artists Assembly of Massachusetts, explored connections between West Africa, the United States and the Caribbean, particularly in the context of the Negritude movement and the Harlem Renaissance, showing the interconnectedness of Black history worldwide. Ms. Massie talked about her research on the transnational diasporic circulation of genetic ancestry testing information and the claims that are being made by and on behalf of African Americans based on this technology. Despite record breaking snowfall in Boston, some 30 people braved the weather to attend the event. The panel and the lively discussion that followed explored the complex issues of identity and the enduring and ever-changing connections between the African continent and its diasporic communities. A video of the panel can be accessed on the WARA website at http://www.bu.edu/wara
There will also be a closing event for the exhibition. It will take place on Wednesday February 25 at the YWCA Cambridge, and will feature another panel—this time in consideration of the question, “What is African?”
This event was co-organized by WARA and Africans in Boston. We are grateful for support from the City of Boston Cultural Council, Boston University African Studies Center, The YWCA Cambridge, and the Daughters of Yemaya Collective. .
Book Presentation and Dedication
L’Afrique, Berceau de l’Ecriture et ses Manuscrits en Péril
Jacques Habib Sy, editor (L’Harmattan-Senegal, 2014)
In 2010, a meeting was convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss ways to save endangered ancient manuscripts all over the continent. Meeting participants also discussed the history of writing and the written word and, based on scientific investigations, concluded that writing appeared and was used on the African continent long before it appeared in other parts of the world.
According to Jacques Habib Sy, editor of the volumes presented, “Africa is not only the land of orality”. The continent is, indeed, the cradle of writing; evidence has been found that as early as the fourth century and probably before, an early form of the Ge’ez writing system was in use. The same writing system is still being used for the Amharic language spoken in Ethiopia.
This event, which drew an audience of 40, took place at the West African Research Center (WARC) on January 28th. It was well covered by the local media.
Book Launch at WARC
La Revolution de 1914 au Senegal ou l’election au palais Bourbon du depute noir Blaise Diagne (de son vrai nom Galaye Mbaye Diagne)
By Iba Der Thiam (L’Harmattan-Senegal, 2014)
Taking place on the last days of the year 2014, this book presentation and dedication ceremony should rightfully be considered one of the highwater marks of similar events at the West African Research Center (WARC) because of the large attendance it drew and also because of the many distinguished personalities from academia, the political arena, and the world of arts and letters who were present.
According to the author, Professor Iba Der Thiam and the various distinguished historians from University Cheikh Anta Diop who shared the panel, the election of the Senegalese Blaise Diagne to the French National Assembly was indeed a revolution, and one that ignited political consciousness and awareness in Senegal as well as throughout colonial French West Africa. This unprecedented political feat resulted in a process for the consolidation of democracy, the promotion of republican values, individual rights and freedom in Senegal, among other parts of colonial French Africa.
The various members of the panel stressed the emergence of local political leadership in colonial Senegal with the election of Blaise Diagne to the french National Assembly. They also underscored the seminal research and publication achievements of Professor Iba Der Thiam. Professor Thiam, a UNESCO distinguished board member, played a key role in the management of education in Senegal as Minister of education. He also contributed significantly to the advancement of democracy in the country as a political party leader and a member of the Senegalese National Assembly. According to his peers from academica, Professor Thiam has been playing a major role in decolonising Senegalese and African histories.
The event was attended by people from academia, civil society, the political and national top management worlds as well as researchers, students and the media people.
by Mamadou Youry Sall
(Presses Universitaires de Dakar, 2014)
WARC Book Presentation and Dedication
One of the key players in the history of 18th century West Africa is the founder of the Almaamiyat in Fuuta (northern Senegal), Ceerno Sileymaani Baal. During all his life, Ceerno Sileymaani Baal fought for good governance, human rights, women’s rights, the promotion of the most deserving in society, and the decentralization of power. This shows that as early as the 18th century, there was in Senegal a type of political government aware of all the prerequisites for democratic rule to prevail in a given society.
According to the moderator of the day, Professor Iba Der Thiam, “the works and writings of Ceerno Sileymaani Baal should be known but also taught and studied in the whole world because, more and
better than any other universal leading figures, he truly embodies the ideology of the Enlightenment which so deeply influenced universal humanism.”
Ceerno S. Baal was educated and trained in Koranic schools in Fuuta and at the University of Pire (Senegal) and was well aware of the geopolitics of the 18th century. All this led him to develop and put into practice governance rules and regulations which are still the order of the day in the 21st century.
The event was attended by 72 people, including senior government officials, writers, academics, researchers and the media.
On Thursday, August 7, the parliament of Sierra Leone ratified a state of emergency declared by President Ernest Koroma on July 30 to enable the government to take radical steps in the fight against the deadly virus of ebola that has become a West African regional epidemic affecting directly Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. The Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF), which was detected in Sierra Leone on may 25 this year in the eastern border town of Buedu which links both Liberia and Guinea, has thus far claimed a death toll of 961 in the sub region as WHO statistics attest. In Sierra Leone the ebola virus has claimed 298 victims with 717 cases reported, the highest so far in any individual country(9th August).
Ebola Hemorraghic Fever, named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo
where the disease first had a disastrous toll on the lives of people in a string of riverine communities in 1976, is caused by a virus of the family called filoviridae. Scientifically there are so far five strands of ebola which manifests itself mainly in symptoms of high fever, bleeding from nose, mouth and rectum, swelling of the genitals, headache, body pain, sore throat, diarrhea, flu, excessive perspiration, rashes, arthritis, malaise, fatigue, nausea etc. It is transmitted mostly through physical contact with the patient. In the Sierra Leonean case customary burial rites which bring a lot of people into direct contact with the victim has been one of the main means of contracting the disease.
Fighting Ebola, which so far has no definitive cure and has a 60% fatality risk probability and 40% possibility of cure, has been bedeviled by a lot of problems. A principal factor has been that of denial from the top right to the bottom of the political spectrum that the virus actually exists. In Sierra Leone this denial has assumed political connotations sparking a trade of accusations and counter-accusations that the northern based central government lacks the political will to nip the threat in the bud and that it is using it as a weapon to decimate the population of the opposition stronghold in the south-east, most especially when the nation is preparing for census. But as the cases reported right across the country are not only being limited to opposition strongholds, politics is seemingly given way to a national fight against an epidemic that poses the threat of wiping an entire population if not contained in time.
Another serious setback in the fight against Ebolais the lack of laboratories in the country. Thus far, only the laboratory for Lassa Fever (another hemorrhagic fever disease also found mostly in the east of Sierra Leone) has been used for the diagnosis of Ebola patients. From all parts of the country, blood samples and bodily fluids taken from suspected cases have to be referred to that centre in Kenema. As the Ebola scare increases, making it the first test conducted on all patients going to hospitals and health centers in the country, so also has the inadequacy of our hospitals starved of protective gears and basic disinfectants been grossly exposed, putting the life of patients and health workers at risk. A good number of Ebola cases in the country have gone unreported with family people wanting to spare themselves the stigma of Ebola.
The death of Dr. Sheik Umarr Khan, the only Sierra Leonean virologist, head of Institute of Hemorrhagic Fever Diseases in Kenema, who led the fight against ebola, on July 29, coupled with the scare factor fueled mostly by the local press reporting sometimes sensationally on the mounting death toll, has influenced dramatically a change in the nation’s position that is now committed to the fight of containing the deadly disease irrespective of political affiliations as the unanimous parliamentary vote ratifying the state of emergency demonstrated.
As the state of emergency takes effect, galvanizing the general populace in the fight against Ebola, there are serious socio-cultural and economic implications to contend with. To quarantine the disease, flow of civilian transport from the eastern province of Sierra Leone has been put on hold, social gatherings and nightclubs banned. Delicacies like monkeys and bats have been banned as they are believed to be the principal carriers of the ebola virus. Almost all public buildings have chlorinated buckets of water for disinfecting hands before entrance and people who deal with the public are seen carrying around gloves and masks. Culturally accepted practices of embraces and shake of hands are now curtailed and seriously frowned upon. Not allowing relatives to see and bury the corpse of their dead ones who die of Ebola has been culturally frowned upon as the dead were deprived of all the befitting rites. From both micro- and macroeconomic perspectives, the state of emergency and the Ebola scare has had its toll on the tourism industry in the country and many expatriates working for the multi-national companies have left the country. Major flights like British Airways and Arik Airlines have been temporarily suspended with rumors that other flights will follow suit if the situation does not improve. All weekly market days, in which contiguous villages within the radius of 7-10 miles converge to buy and sell, have been put on hold.
As the international community is rising up to the occasion of pouring in the much needed aid to contain the Ebola virus in the sub region that has been declared by WHO as an international epidemic, a small but powerful undercurrent of social and religious fanatics are of the opinion that the Ebola virus, hitherto known to exist in DRC and East Africa and never in Sierra Leone, has been brought in by expatriates so that western pharmaceutical companies could make money. Two weeks ago a female pastor of a church was arrested by the police in Kenema, the eastern capital of Sierra Leone, for spreading the rumour and gaining a large following in town that the Ebola virus does not exist and that all the blood samples collected were for rituals which are the work of the devil. On Friday night the 8th of August, word went round on almost all social networks that a pastor dreamt that the cure for Ebola was that everybody should wash themselves at midnight with hot water mixed with salt. Almost half of Sierra Leone (Muslims and Christians alike) was on its feet to faithfully perform this ritual. Ebola may be real if we go by the lives it has claimed and the measures taken to contain it by the government and by the relentless efforts of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) ICRC, The Samaritan Purse, CARITAS, NGO’S and health practitioners, but the socio-cultural, religious and political undercurrents still continue to spurn many “doubting Thomases” who continue to weaken the resolve to treat the ebola epidemic with all the seriousness it deserves.
Dr. Victor Salifu Suma
August 9, 2014
Incorporating African History in Black History Month
On Wednesday February 26, the West African Research Association co-organized with Africans in Boston (AiB) a discussion entitled “Incorporating African History in Black History Month.” The event featured three panelists: University of Massachusetts-Boston Professor Jemadari Kamara, Boston University Professor Zoliswa Mali, and West African Research Association Director Dr. Jennifer Yanco.
Dr. Jennifer Yanco was the first panelist to address the audience. She noted that Black History Month was originally established in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In light of the increasingly diverse population of Black Americans, Dr. Yanco urged that we re-evaluate the purpose and effectiveness of Black History Month. In particular, she cautioned against the practice of celebrating the contributions of exceptional individuals to the exclusion of examining the systems that made and continue to make Black History Month necessary—continuing systems of racial oppression and general ignorance about Black history, be it in Africa, the US, or elsewhere in the diaspora.
Zoliswa Mali, Professor of Southern African languages at Boston University, highlighted some key dates in the history of the struggle of Black South Africans against the oppressive apartheid system. Professor Mali called attention to key parallel dates in African American history. In particular, she noted that while African Americans were fighting for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, the black South Africans too were fighting against the Jim Crow-like system in Apartheid South Africa. She noted that while figures like Nelson Mandela and others have been iconized, it is important to remember the masses carried out demonstrations and resistance campaigns on the ground while Mandela was incarcerated. She highlighted the important role young people played both in South Africa and in the United States to challenge the harsh racist conditions under which they lived. Overall her message was that all African born and non-African born black people need to learn each other’s stories and work together to continue to challenge the structures that disempower all black people.
UMass Boston Professor Jemadari Kamara was the final panelist and served as an inspirational anchor to the crowd. He began by listing the birthdates and deaths of key African, African American, and Afro-Caribbean leaders who have influenced collective black history. The overall message of his address was that all of our histories are inextricably linked. Black people all over the world have an obligation to themselves and the collective to know their history. The struggle exists for all black people who need to know each other’s stories to keep them alive. Professor Kamara mentioned how important the diaspora is to the future of the African continent. He noted that Cape Verde was the first African country to give the diaspora a legislative seat in the government. Also, the African Union has created a sixth region; it is the region of the diaspora. He noted however, that since nothing of the sort has ever existed, there needs to be a conversation about what it means to have the diaspora represented and about the goals and intentions of the African diaspora in the future of the continent.
The presentations were followed by questions and comments to the speakers and by a lively discussion among the 30+ people present.
WARA is grateful to Africans in Boston, and in particular, to AiB Event Coordinator Joycelina Imafidon for her work in organizing the event and to AiB President Voury Ignegongba for his role as a moderator. Special thanks also go to the Addis Red Sea Ethiopian restaurant in Boston for hosting the event.
A Performance/ Workshop at WARC
On December 12th, 2013, the West African Research Center hosted a presentation by Mr Kamau Philips and Mrs Binta Betty McDaniels, on the culture of New Orleans.
Mr Philips and Mrs McDaniels, through a display of various objects used during street rituals and celebrations, musical instruments, pictures, books and short videos, allowed people who attended to experience cultural New Orleans.
The event was wrapped up with a live performance. Mrs McDaniels showed the audience dance moves while Mr Kamau played on a “Jembe” or tambourine different rhythms played at occasions such as funerals or to show the historical relationship between African Americans and Native Americans.
Both artists showed, through songs, music and dance rhythms of New Orleans, the connection between New Orleans and Africa.
The event was attended by 15 people, all of whom very much appreciated the performance and enthusiastically danced to this music that sounded so familiar.
Ensure that your application is complete and that all of the requested materials are submitted by the due date. While your proposed research project, internship or residency may be compelling, the fellowship committee cannot fully assess an incomplete file. The secretariat does its best to ensure that applications are complete, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that their referees and universities send in materials on time.
QUALITY OF RESEARCH STATEMENT
Describe clearly the nature of the project or residency that you will be undertaking. For residencies, how will these enhance the African pedagogy/scholarship in your institutional curriculum and the scholarly development or career of the resident scholar. For post-doctoral applications, explain whether the research project will lead to the completion of an article, book chapter, artistic or creative performance or a discrete part of a larger project. For pre-doctoral applicants, avoid sending proposals that are at the very early stages of conception, especially ones that do not convey a concrete sense of the direction that the dissertation is heading.
Make sure that you communicate very clearly the larger significance and relevance of your proposed project. Ask yourself: Why should the committee or anyone care about this project? The committee usually wants to see how the project speaks to ongoing concerns and debates in the applicant’s discipline and in broader multidisciplinary terrain of West African studies. The applicant should be able to convey clearly and concisely to reviewers from an array of disciplinary backgrounds how his or her research will nuance standing debates or help us rethink them altogether.
Projects should be feasible in its scope, proposed research locations, and its activities. Are the regions and countries that are you proposing to conduct your research reasonably accessible, stable, and secure? Can the research activities that you have outlined be conducted successfully in the places that you have specified?
Be explicit about the relevance and your knowledge of the different languages necessary for the successful conduct of your project. The committee looks favorably on candidates who have or are making effort to acquire the requisite language skills. If you do not have the language skills, discuss the nature and cost of the arrangements you have made or will be making for language services.
BUDGETS AND TIMELINES
Make sure that your budget is carefully outlined, reasonable, and can support the field, archival or artistic/creative project(s) that you have planned. Note that the upper limit of the grant support to pre-doctoral and post-doctoral grants is $6,000, with airfare set around $2,500, and the rest for board, lodging and other research costs. Excessively high or low budgets will signal that your project is not feasible within the guidelines established by WARA. If you have applied, are applying, or plan to apply for additional sources of support for your research, let WARA know. This will not adversely affect the competitiveness of your proposals.
Develop a realistic timeline. The grants are not being given for very short trips or long-term field research. Plan to spend two to three months in the region.
Use the West African Research Center as a resource to help you with establishing contacts and helping you with other information regarding research in West Africa.