Greetings to all in the University of Michigan community and beyond with interests in Africa!
Our fourth issue of Alliances explores further the varied terrain of U-M collaborations, activities and scholarly engagements with African colleagues and topics. These include the exciting announcement of a new partnership to strengthen engineering education in Liberia, meditations on the challenges to university education in Africa by visiting scholars Kwesi Yankah (former Pro-Vice Chancellor, U. Ghana) and Andrew State (Senior Lecturer, Makerere U., Uganda), reflections on the birth of South Sudan by U-M faculty Amal Fadlalla and Omolade Adunbi, the mesmerizing artwork of UMAPS artist-scholar George Kushiator, and the pharmaceutical sojourns of U-M historian Nancy Hunt.
The past year witnessed a dizzying array of African Studies Center (ASC) programs. The African Heritage (AHI) and African Social Research (ASRI) initiatives each held their bi-annual international conferences, both in July 2011. AHI’s conference on “The Politics of Heritage” took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, while the ASRI conference on “Access, Accountability and Equality” was held in Accra, Ghana. The ASRI and STEM-Africa initiatives both launched summer intensive courses: ASRI organized two separate courses on statistical analysis of social research data in Ghana, and STEM on engineering skill-building in Liberia. Mathematics faculty Daniel Burns and Nkem Khumbah co-organized in May an “International Conference on Mathematics” in Buea, Cameroon, and the final two Mellon-Sawyer seminars on “Ethnicity in Africa” were held here in Ann Arbor on “The Making of the Yoruba” (April 2011) and “Ethnicity, Conflict and Cooperation” (November 2011). The ASC was a key partner in the International Institute’s November conference on “New Media/Social Change,” at which Prof. Victoria Bernal (U. of California-Irvine) discussed the role of media in Eritrean diasporan communities in the US and Prof. Annabelle Sreberny (School of Oriental and African Studies) countered simplistic narratives of the ‘Arab Spring’ in North Africa as driven solely by mass mediated encounters. Moreover, at the invitation of the African Union three U-M faculty (Frieda Ekotto, Comparative Literature/DAAS; Elijah Kannatey-Asibu, Mechanical Engineering; and Nkem Khumbah, Comprehensive Studies/Mathematics) represented the university at curriculum workshops in Nairobi, Kenya; Yaoundé, Cameroon; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. These workshops were the final stage of preparation for the official launch in December 2011 of the Pan African University (PAU), which encompasses five academic centers of excellence—one in each region of the continent—to advance higher education in Africa.
In August 2011, we welcomed our newest cohort of African Presidential Scholars (UMAPS—see elsewhere in the newsletter). As in previous years, the range of disciplines and scholarly interests represented by these faculty from universities in Ghana, South Africa, Liberia and Uganda is impressively wide. Among them are scholars focusing on small aircraft design, Ugandan precolonial history, Liberian coastal erosion and the South African ‘heritage industry.’ You may meet them and learn more about their work at the upcoming UMAPS Research Symposium scheduled for February 3rd.
Let me end by welcoming to campus the newest additions to our faculty who work in or on, or who come from, Africa: Kwasi Ampene (DAAS/School of Music), the new director of the Center for World Performance Studies at the International Institute, who as an ethnomusicologist researching Asante performance practices and court rituals commands a wealth of knowledge and experience on the performing arts; Joseph Ansong (Earth and Environmental Sciences), an applied mathematician here on a five-year NSF-funded postdoctoral fellowship researching how the ocean dissipates energy and affects climate; Fernando Arenas (Romance Languages and Literatures/DAAS), who studies literature, film and popular music of the Lusophone world from Brazil to Cape Verde to Angola as well as the emergence of Afro-diasporic identities in Portugal; Bilal Butt (School of Natural Resources and Environment), a geographer examining the complexities of human-environment relations in East Africa with special focus on challenges facing pastoralists and their creative use of information technologies to combat them; Eric Calderwood (Romance Languages and Literatures), whose scholarship engages literary representations of the Spanish colonial period in Morocco; Joyojeet Pal (School of Information), who analyzes how computer and communication technologies can be employed in resource strapped situations to enable students with disabilities to pursue their educational dreams; Adedamola Osinulu (Michigan Society of Fellows/DAAS), who as both a scholar and architect studies the spatialization of Pentecostal Christianity in African cities; and David Turnley (Residential College), whose Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalism and acclaimed documentary films have explored topics from apartheid South Africa to Cuban popular culture.
I attribute the many successes of the ASC to the energies and talents of ASC-affiliated faculty and the ASC staff (especially Associate Director Derek Peterson; Assistant Director Devon Adjei; Sandie Schulze; Thaya Rowe; Henrike Florusbosch; Cindy Middleton; and Unit Manager Marya Ayyash), as well as to the shared commitment of our Africa-based partners and the infectious passion of our students (e.g., p.__on the activities of AfricAid). As the Swahili saying confirms: Penye mafundi hapakosi wanafunzi (“Where there are experts there is no shortage of students”).
Please join us at our upcoming events and avail yourself of the many Africa-related resources and opportunities on our website: http://www.ii.umich.edu/asc/. We thank you for your continued support of the African Studies Center.