Five scholars from Africa reflect on their continent.
"What Americans Need to Know about Africa" was the title of a panel discussion by five Fulbright scholars from different countries in Africa held on February 17 in commemoration of Black History month. The program was jointly sponsored by the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Enrichment Program, the Center for African Studies, and the UCLA International Institute. The speakers were Kioi Mbugua from Kenya, Khalil Alio from Chad, Susan Parnell and Owen Crenshaw from South Africa, and Benedict Oladele from Nigeria. The meeting was held in the International Institute's Bunche Hall conference room.
The panel was opened by the Fulbright Coordinator, Ann Kerr, who noted that 100,000 years ago the first hominoids walked out of Africa and peopled the earth. "Our common ancestry lies in Africa and yet most of us know very little about this large continent that today has so many problems."
The first speaker, Kioi Mbugua from Kenya is studying at the University of San Diego in the Peace and Justice Studies Center. He is a screenwriter and filmmaker and went on a tour of the UCLA film school before the panel. He began his remarks in the parlance of a filmmaker by saying that Africa has been the "receiver" and not the "producer." He spoke proudly of traditional African culture and the importance of story telling. "Sitting under a tree and telling a story was the foundation of traditional African democracy," Kioi said, "but this was altered by colonialism. Ideas of peace and justice were transmitted through story telling, but now that has all changed." Kioi would like to restore that tradition in films. He believes that access to education must be insured for all Kenyans. At present, only primary education is compulsory.
More than Just Game Parks and Safaris
Khalil Alio, is a professor of linguistics in Chad and head of the newspaper "Unite" there. He also spoke with pride of Africa as the cradle of humanity and a continent of 53 countries and 800 million people. Chad is in the center of the African continent and includes three different climate zones, desert in the north, sahel or semi-desert in the center, and savannah in the south. The country was officially colonized by the French in 1900 though they had been there from the 1880s. Chad became independent in 1960. "It takes much time to become a nation," Khalil said. "Africa does not need to sell itself to grow. We must retain our own culture. We are much more than just game parks and safaris. He spoke of the importance of education as the key to understanding, both within Africa and for outsiders to understand Africa. "We are optimistic for our future. We have many natural resources and a youthful population. We must get beyond civil wars and autocratic rulers and build new democratic societies." Khalil is currently a fellow in the Center for African Studies and will be here until October.
Susan Parnell and Owen Crankshaw are a husband and wife team and professors in sociology and geography at the University of Cape Town. They find Los Angeles a useful place for their interests in urban geography and the development of democracy. Susan emphasized that local democratic procedures carried out in such matters as community services are essential to the development of national democracies. Colonialism held back the development of local democracy in many parts of Africa. Independence came to nations but not to local institutions. She believes there have been some excellent political reforms and effective redistribution from rich to poor suburbs. "Africans are beginning to learn from each other; they are filling gaps left by the colonial regimes. The South African story is a good one. There are success stories to tell."
Owen Crankshaw has studied the changing patterns of inequality in South African cities. Inequality is racial, but there is also inequality within races in South Africa. Now he is looking at the inequality parallels in Los Angeles and sees certain patterns. Both are undergoing "deindustrialization." Both have had waves of "in-migrants," and the recent immigrants are poorer than the earlier ones. The arrival of new races is creating more inequality. In South Africa, there are long term white and black residents, but now most newcomers are black and they are experiencing restricted access to jobs. This creates a new wedge and more intraracial problems.
Benedict Oladele is a librarian at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Jos, Nigeria who has been a fellow in the Center for African Studies for the past six months. He began his talk with an African proverb, "You can never be taller than me and shorter at the same time." He emphasized that countries of the world need each other in the present global era. "Africa was a guinea pig of the cold war and after the United States won the cold war, you ignored us." He spoke of the problem of corruption in Africa and the abundance of arms from former Communist countries. "America can help stop the corruption," Benedict stated, "by changing from reactive to pro-active policies. The U.S. should see other countries as partners in peace."
A number of interesting points came up during the discussion period. In answer to a question about corruption, Susan responded that land tenure and traditional versus modern issues lie at the heart of problems of corruption. What worked in relatively small settlements in traditional life does not work in large urban areas. Now these matters are under debate and new ideas are being initiated.
The problem of the African brain drain was raised and Susan replied that centers of excellence need to be established to attract local talent. The coupling of programs with other nations is very critical in Africa.
Three scholars gave ideas for a question about investment opportunities. Kioi stated that Africa prefers fair trade to foreign aid and wishes to develop partnerships with businesses abroad. He says there are many opportunities in film. Benedict emphasized that the excellent energy sources in Africa should be utilized. Khalil offered the opinion that in Chad the World Bank and the IMF have managed their oil resources when other business opportunities could have been utilized.
In answer to a question about the influence of religion in Africa, Kioi commented that the missionaries came with a bible in one hand and a gun in the other. "Africans are hungry for their own identity." Benedict added that the missionaries capitalized on the African belief in God but they also brought education. Referring back to a previous issue, he added that the IMF and the World Bank are seen as part of the problem in Africa. "What is the difference between those agencies and American policy? Local experts need to be involved, but they are not." He recommends debt reduction or rescheduling as a means of helping Africa.
Published: Friday, April 02, 2004
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