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Category: News from WARA
WARA Celebrates Black History Month: Blackness and the Changing Face of the African Diaspora in the US
A Dialogue between Wendy Wilson-Fall and Trina Jackson
On the evening of February 26, 2016, WARA hosted its annual Black History Month program at the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground at Boston University. This year, thanks to a generous grant from the Boston Cultural Council, WARA was pleased to present a dialogue between two exceptional women: WARA board president Wendy Wilson-Fall and scholar-activist, Trina Jackson.
The topic of their discussion was the changing face of the African diaspora in the US and the challenges that these changes pose. This searching and provocative discussion was attended by more than 50 people, including members of the African American communities of Boston, recent immigrants from Africa, and first generation African immigrants. A video of the program is available on WARA’s youtube channel.
Since the 1960s and the rollback of racially biased immigration laws, the proportion of the Black US population that was born in Africa or whose parents or grandparents were, has grown enormously. Along with waves of immigration from the Caribbean, these new African Americans are changing what ‘being black’ in the United States might signify. What has this meant for the older African Diaspora community in the United States? How has this influx of ‘new Africans’ changed the dynamics within and between communities in the US and on the African continent? How is it different from earlier arrivals of ‘new Africans?’
The discussion following the dialogue included a spoken word presentation by Leonard Tshitenge of Africans in Boston, one of the event’s co-sponsors. Also co-sponsoring were the BU African American Studies Program, the BU African Studies Center, and the BU African Students Organization.
The speakers: A graduate of Goddard College, Trina Jackson co-coordinates the Network of Immigrant and African American Solidarity (NIAAS), a grassroots community organization that seeks to build solidarity between African Americans and immigrants of color. She is also the Program Coordinator of the Inclusion Initiative, a program of Third Sector New England, which supports cross-sector networks in communities of color to address root causes of poverty and economic inequality. Trina is also a mixed media artist, writer, gardener, and nature photographer.
A graduate of Howard University, Wendy Wilson Fall is Associate Professor and Program Chair of the Africana Studies Program at Lafayette College. Her new book, Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic, explores African American family narratives about Madagascar. Her research engages questions of socio-cultural change, ethnic identity, and multi-focal historical narratives. She is currently working on a book entitled A Negro Handbook for West Africans and Other Strangers. Wilson-Fall is also a painter and visual artist.
This program was supported in part by a grant from the Boston Cultural Council, a local agency which is funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, administrated by the Mayor’s office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events
KOMIVI DOSSA is a Beninois Ph.D candidate at UCAD working on sesame, which plays an important part in the lives of rural people in West Africa. His research is on food security, particularly on the physiological and enzymatic mechanisms of drought resistance in sesame. (See more).
KEITA IBRAHIM is a Ph.D candidate in Microbian and Cellular Biotechnology at the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. He is working on indigenous yeasts and metabolites generated by the so-called “Rabile” which is the dregs of the local beer named “Dolo”. (See more).
KOFFI YAO BERNARD is a Ph.D candidate in Agroecology from Cote d’Ivoire. Using ecological intensification, he is conducting his research on the microbian community of the soils fertilized by animal manures (See more).
IDOWU OMOWUMI OMODUNNI is a Nigerian Ph.D candidate at Ekiti State University in Nigeria. Her research project is entitled: Women, Environment Degradation and Food Security: the case of Oloibiri Community of Bayelsa State, Nigeria. (See more).
WARA 2015 travel grantee, David Obada was named Research Training Fellow for Developing Country Scientists (RTF-DCS) at the CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, Nehru-Marg, India. He will be under the guidance of Dr Nitin K Labhsetwar during the six month fellowship period. He will be studying how low cost catalyst supported on ceramic supports diesel emission control. David is also pursuing a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria.
“Charlie Hebdo in Niger: Between AQIM and Boko Haram” was the title of this year’s official WARA panel at the African Studies Association (ASA) annual meeting in San Diego, California. Panelists examined the various reactions of Nigeriens in the wake of President Mahamadou Issoufou’s expression of solidarity with those speaking out against the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Each explored the complex and changing context from a different disciplinary point of view, contributing to the rich and nuanced presentations.
Panelists included Scott Youngstedt, WARA Immediate past president (Saginaw Valley State University); Barbara Cooper (Rutgers University); Hilary Hungerford (South Dakota State University); Amanda Gilvin (Mount Holyoke College), Yahaya Ibrahim (University of Florida) and Abdoulaye Sounaye Independent scholar) .
The Role of Civil Society and Independent Radio in West Africa: Ending WAR, Building Peace, and Fighting Ebola
On Wednesday April 1, 2015, WARA collaborated with Lesley University and the Foundation for West Africa on an event entitled The Role of Civil Society and Independent Radio in West Africa: Ending War, Building Peace, and Fighting Ebola.
In introducing the event, Professor Arlene Dallafar emphasized the need for a real conversation about the work being done on the ground by Africans to addres the Ebola crisis.
WARA Director Jennifer Yanco presented some basic facts about the Ebola outbreak including the number of fatalities, the geographical area affected, and basic background information on the countries that are at the epicenter of the outbreak. Dr. Yanco’s presentation focused on two key pieces that are absent from the coverage of Ebola. The first, the absence of context, triggers negative stereotypes associated with Africa and hampers our ability to understand why Ebola has been so virulent in these particular countries and not in others. Specifically she invited us to look at the contemporary and historical context, including a recent history of violent conflict, a long history of extractive industy and agribusiness with significant impact in terms of environmental degradation and high levels of corruption, and the impact of neoliberal structural adjustment policies on the public sector, most notably in this case, healthcare systems. Another missing piece is the voices of the Sierra Leoneans, the Guineans, the Liberians whose amazing courage in the face of this crisis has kept it from being even worse than it is. Instead of hearing directly from them most coverage focuses on helpers from the West. While their work is certainly important, it shifts attention from the extraordinary work of local populations who are on the front lines– the doctors, volunteers, burial crews, nurses, lab technicians, community organizers, and countless other groups. Africans tend rather to be presented as hapless victims and we have few stories about their resilience, innovation and extraordinary sacrifice. That Nigeria was able to stop the outbreak was hardly mentioned in the news. A recent Open Letter to “60 Minutes” on the subject of missing voices was circulated to the audiene.
Topher Hamblett, President of the Foundation for West Africa introduced and screened the film Leh Wi Tok (Let us Talk). The film is a documentary about journalist Andrew Kromah and his efforts to grow an independent network of community-based radio stations in his home country of Sierra Leone. There were vivid imagery and explanation of the flagrant and persistent political harassment, financial and the technical challenges faced by independent radio stations in Sierra Leone. The film was followed by a lively discussion with the students and community members who asked questions about the financial, technical and logistical challenges of supporting these radio stations. The questions probed into the political, economic and environmental climate of Sierra Leone, as well as cultures, content and linguistic challenges facing radio personnel. The students and community members present shared both their questions and some of the things they had learned from the presentation.
This event was attended by more than 20 students and community members.
On October 7th WARA teamed up with Seeding Labs to host an event at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge, MA. We had a good turn out. For those of you who couldn’t be there, here is the video.
For the African Innovators Video click here.
Thanks to videographer James Boyd for preparing this so quickly.
Views from the Desert Edge
May 31, June 1 & 2, 2014
The third WARA-AIMS Saharan Crossroads conference brought together more than 50 scholars from around the Sahara and beyond for three days of interdisciplinary exchange. The conference, organized in collaboration with CEMA, CRASC, and the University of Ghardaia, was expertly organized by CEMA (Centre des Etudes Maghrébines en Algérie) and CRASC (Centre de Recherche en Anthropologie Sociale et Culturelle). CRASC, with its fully equipped amphitheatre, dining hall, and gardens was the perfect venue for the conference.
Presentations covered topics ranging from literature, religion, youth, architecture, hydrology, political science, and education to urbanization, manuscript collections, climate change, art, and music. This truly multi-disciplinary conference provided the rare opportunity for exchange across national, linguistic, and disciplinary borders.
An opening session featuring presentations by Ghislaine Lydon and Jean Sébastian Lecocq explored the theoretical constructs that continue to influence scholarship on the Sahara, and Africa more generally, and underlined the need for new epistemological paradigms. The racialization of the continent, its division into sub-Saharan Black Africa and a more ‘advanced’ European or white Africa to the north, the ‘civilizational bias’ that assumes one-way influence from ‘advanced’ to ‘less advanced’, la politique Berbere, la politique de race, notions of Islam Noire—all of these inherited paradigms continue to have enormous impact on our ability to see the continent and in particular, the Sahara and the communities in and surrounding it. The idea of the Sahara as a space dividing an imagined Black and White Africa is hard to shake–among scholars and even among populations on the continent. Our job as scholars, it was agreed, is to develop new ways of approaching the sub-region and its continental contexts.
In addition to the 42 different presentations, the conference included a workshop for doctoral students and a tour of the old city of Oran. It was an intense conference, and a very rich one. We look forward to making the papers available online by the end of July.
Special thanks go to Robert Parks and Karim Ouaras of CEMA for their superb organization of the conference.
We extend our expressions of solidarity and concern to the families of the young students violently taken from the school in Chibok where they were sitting exams. Our hearts are with you and we, like so many around the world, pray for the safe return of these young people. We reach out as well to our many colleagues in colleges and universities across Nigeria, who are confronted with a tragedy on both personal and professional terms. As an organization of researchers and scholars, WARA denounces this growing attack on education. The brutal targeting of students is an all-out assault on youth and on the future.
Children everywhere, girls in particular, are increasingly targets of oppressive violence. It is each of our jobs as adults to see that our children are safe. We must denounce the production and circulation of the arms that make this kind of violence possible. We must hold our communities and governments accountable for enforcing policies that protect our children. Girls and young people everywhere deserve to live in a world free of violence where they can learn and grow and prepare for the future of their communities.
The West African Research Association
Boston & Dakar
Survival in Ho-Asogli Traditional Area
Ghanaian ethnomusicologist Dr. Misonu Amu, a visiting scholar at the New England Conservatory of Music this spring, was recently the guest of WARA and the African Studies Center. On Thursday, April 17, 2014 she gave a compelling talk entitled Ewe Women’s Musical Practices in the Volta region of Ghana: Survival in Ho-Asogli Traditional Area.
In her general introduction to Ewe musical practice, we learned that northern Ewe groups use a diatonic scale while southerners use the pentatonic—or five note—scale. We also learned about a range of instruments and some types of songs practiced by the Ewe. Dr. Amu underlined that music among the Ewe is interactive and involves singing, instruments, and dancing.
The core of her presentation was on women’s music. “Women,” she noted, “are custodians of tradition.” And music is among the most important of traditions in any culture. She underlined the key role of music in women’s lives and the many social functions it fills. One of these functions is expressing grief and dealing with death. This is the domain of the Aviha, literally, weeping songs. These traditional funereal songs, performed exclusively by women, with their often philosophical lyrics, pay tribute to the deceased and engage the community in the ritual of grieving. Dr. Amu noted that in Ho, the capital of the northern Ewe region, the Aviha is not permitted to be performed for Christians.
The audience was treated to demonstrations of some of the songs by Dr. Amu and enthusiastically took on their role in the call and response format.
WARA/AiB Forum on Civil Unrest in Chad
On Tuesday February 11, WARA collaborated with Africans in Boston (AiB) to host a program on Chad at Boston University’s African Studies Center. AiB president Voury Ignegongba, a Chadian himself, discussed the current political and economic situation in the landlocked African nation of Chad, explaining how conflicts in Libya, Sudan, and the Central African Republic have led to an increasingly unstable situation in an already struggling nation.
Mr. Ignegongba went through the post-colonial history of Chad, starting with its independence from France in 1960. Over the years, a series of coup d’etats led by military leaders have led to a general lack of confidence in the government.
Moreover, Chad is located at the center of a region wracked by conflicts. According to Ignegongba, the many conflicts in the region have made it impossible for Chad to advance in the 50 plus years since its independence. Mr. Ignegongba provided an overview of regional history and U.S. involvement in the region during the cold war, paying particular attention to the situation in Libya, leading up to the US intervention there in 2011. He briefly went through the history of the Central African Republic and the impact that these regional conflicts have had on Chad.
A son of a diplomat, Ignegongba was born in N’Djamena, Chad and grew up in Central and Western Africa (Cameroon, Mauritania, Niger, Mali) where he attended local international French schools. From an early age, he was exposed to a broad range of countries and culture including France, the United States, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria. Ignegongba holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from McGill University in 2000. Since then he has worked in Japan and currently resides in Boston, where he serves as the president of Africans in Boston, a vibrant organization that brings together African residents in the area.