Conferences, Conferences, Conferences

A few conference-related items of potential interest.

Firstly, I’m issuing my own brief call for any fellow travelers in justice/reconciliation/Africa/intervention studies by anthropologists thinking about attending the American Ethnological Society this March 31-April 2 in Washington, DC. I’m thinking about submitting a newer iteration of the paper I presented at ASA last year, on reconciliation and accountability, the ICC, and Invisible Children. I’m open to ways of framing it, so if anyone wants to help me cobble together a panel, I’d greatly appreciate it. Deadline is Jan. 31, but you can’t submit until after you register (I know, right?). I’ve heard AES is awesome, and I can’t wait to go – hopefully you’ll come with me! Comment, e-mail, tweet, etc. if you’re down to do a panel together on any of the aforementioned subjects.

On a related note, doing my grad-student-Africanist duty and spreading the word of a couple of Calls for Papers to any relevant Africanist scholars-in-training:

Boston University’s African Studies Center will be hosting its annual graduate student conference this March, with the theme of “Mobilizing Africa: Innovation, Syncretism, Appropriation.” Deadline for submission is Jan. 15, and the conference is March 25-26. I’ve never been, but it looks mighty interesting and is geared towards graduate students, so check it out.

At about the same time, Tennessee State University will be hosting its annual Africa Conference March 31-April 1, with the theme of “Africa in the 21st Century: The Promise of Development and Democracy.” Deadline is Dec. 31, and more details are in the CFP here [pdf].

And lastly, it’s almost that time of year again. I’ll be headed to San Diego in two weeks for the African Studies Association’s annual meeting, where I’ll be presenting a chapter from my MA thesis that is also a forthcoming article in African Studies Review. The paper is on the role of come-home messaging in the LRA conflict, focusing on how come-home radio programs began in Gulu, how they fared in neighboring Lira district, and how they have been transplanted into northeastern DRC. Looking forward to presenting, and if you’re headed to ASA, it’s session IX (Saturday morning), panel I-1, vaguely titled “Accounting for Violence.” Hope to see you there!

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Who is Funding African Studies Research?

Aili Mari Tripp, political scientist and former president of the African Studies Association, has drafted a report on funding challenges and opportunities in African Studies research. In the report she sheds on the recent changes that international (and specifically African) research support has encountered as sources of funding shift. She starts by looking at the nearly nonexistent support for international research by private foundations (which used to provide large amounts of support) and the drastic reduction in funding from the federal government. Title VI and Fulbright-Hayes were both cut nearly in half, which has and will continue to completely reshape area studies as a field. Tripp quotes one report that found that cuts in 2011 led to

 a reduction or cancellation of over 400 less commonly-taught language and area studies classes, affecting over 6,300 students; reductions in international business programs with 10,000 fewer business professionals trained; and reductions in language resources and research, which has resulted in over 5,900 fewer language teachers trained, involving 29 languages.  It is not clear that the universities are stepping in to fill the gaps.

Indeed, most are either unable to unwilling to. When I looked into Yale’s African Studies program it was made clear that federal budget cuts played a central role in the program’s downsizing, but that the university was also either failing to step in or was proactively tightening belts in anticipation of more cuts (or in the interest of shuttling money towards other focuses). But that’s just one case – across the country international and area studies are shrinking at an alarming rate as they lose financial and academic support. As current ASA President James A. Pritchett, anthropologist at Michigan State and director of that school’s African Studies Center, has said that funding cuts are “are unraveling, brick-by-brick, the national African studies edifice that it took 50 years to build up.”

The biggest shift we’re seeing today as Department of Education funds dry up is the arrival of State and Defense Departments’ renewed (and fairly robust) interest in international and area studies. Things like the Critical Languages program and the Minerva Project aim to train scholars to do work that supports and reinforces U.S. goals abroad. Although Tripp says some Africa-focused scholars involved with Minerva say that they feel independent in their work, I know Southeast Asia-focused work at Arizona State was centered on Muslim discourse and identifying “good” Muslims in the region to spread moderate Islam over extremism (yes, I’m simplifying).

This shift isn’t an accident. DoE’s Title VI foreign language funding is being reduced while DoD’s language programs and institutes get bigger and bigger.  As Pritchett says, “The Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) in Monterey, California receives nearly $345 million annually, over four times the funding provided to the 125 Title VI Centers combined.” Study of the world around us is becoming increasingly directed by the military, and this is something scholars should be aware or and worried about.

It’s important to note (and Tripp gives it a passing mention) that the ASA has long stood against DoD funding, passing several resolutions against it in the past.  These resolutions were passed specifically to reject U.S. policy in Africa, which supported apartheid and oppressed revolutionaries in decolonization struggles at the time. Today, U.S. policy in Africa centers on counter-terrorism efforts that have resulted in militarization and Islamophobia across the continent. I wrote a little about that African Studies’ refusal to work with the military here, but I think David Wiley’s recent work [gated, ASR] addresses the biggest worry:

In this time of austerity, especially at public universities, there is a growing sense that civilian agency funding is collapsing and military and intelligence funding increasingly is the “only game in town.” As a result, two university African centers and linguists in two other universities that have Title VI Africa centers (with the dissent of their African center faculty), have taken funding for African language instruction programs from the DOD’s NSEP [National Security Education Program].

The other increase in funding is from the State Department, concentrated mostly on aid and development or the promotion of democracy and human rights. These also come with lots of baggage, although probably less so than military funding.

The bright side of the story is Tripp’s focus on private foundation funding for African higher education through grants, scholarships, fellowships, and collaborations with universities. This is much-needed, greatly impacting news for higher education across Africa.

Both Tripp’s and Pritchett’s posts are worth reading in full. The takeaway is that area studies in general is losing big. Both of them offer ways forwards, engaging with Africa directly, departing from government support in favor of foundation or corporation support, etc. The key will be to continue forwards with a heightened consciousness. There are a lot of ways forwards, we just need to ensure that we navigate properly as Africanists.

Strengths and Weaknesses on Africa at Yale

It’s been a few weeks since my article on the Yale Africa Project went up. I tried to make it as comprehensive as possible in discussing Yale’s African Studies program and what has gone into it, but I also had a word limit that I had thoroughly destroyed already. Since I have a blog and that’s what blogs are for, I’m going to dig a little deeper into what’s going to happen at Yale moving forwards.

One promising point in Yale’s future is the creation a senior faculty position in the English Department that will be focused on African literature. Yale has one professor who specializes in Francophone African literature and has never had anyone in English – this new position will rectify that. Yale has a pretty conservative English department overall, something I don’t know enough about to talk about at length, but it’s clear that this position – which has been in the works for many years and included encouragement from the Council on African Studies – will be the department’s foray into world literatures. Hopefully it’s a change that they will continue to expand into.

It’s important to note that this position – which will make a huge mark on African humanities at Yale – is not part of the Yale Africa Project. That initiative, which is in its nascent stages but which has not (and will not, according to those familiar with it) prioritize faculty hiring, has a clear focus on Yale’s strengths. When it comes to Africa, Yale has huge strengths in three sectors: development economics, corruption and good governance, and public health. The Project aims to reinforce those strengths rather than build up new ones. In the front page of a fancy booklet that is being given to potential donors, Ian Shapiro writes:

Focusing on the pivotal areas of governance, development, and public health, we are interested in understanding and contributing to the ways in which business, the public, and the nonprofit sectors respond to Africa’s challenges and opportunities.

In regards to Africa, Yale has a small faculty in general. The humanities in particular need more focus on Africa. Music, art, theater, and literature are all barely represented. The anthropology department’s focus on Africa is currently very low. The language program won’t be able to offer three levels of language instruction without more support. The library collection is great but has been facing budget constraints that make the future more bleak. The Forestry School has one person working in Africa.

Yale has three pillars of specialization in Africa, and that is where the bulk of this new project is headed. While they are important, I see no reason why Yale shouldn’t put resources in parts of Africa where support is needed the most. Africa is the home of vibrant arts, prize-winning literature, diverse languages, endangered ecosystems, and innovative technologies. I can’t figure out why you wouldn’t want to encourage work on these topics.

The new English position will be a welcome addition to Yale because he or she will help support the humanities in African Studies, but also to work to fill a gap in English’s understanding of different literature. The Africa Project should take a note from this and seek to build up new foundations if it really wants to focus on Africa.

Shameless Self-Promotion: On Yale African Studies

Another brief interlude to link you to an article I wrote for Yale Daily News‘ magazine edition, entitled “Looking for Africa.” It’s perhaps the biggest piece I’ll write on the subject, but I don’t expect it to be the last. It’s only a part of a larger conversation which the Yale community has been having, which I’ve linked to before. I hope you’ll take a look, and of course I’ll continue to write about the issue, as it’s important directly to me but also to the conversation about Africanist scholarship (and area studies) in U.S. universities.

 

Cover art, courtesy YDN Magazine

The Yale Africa Project (as it is now known) can and probably will do a lot for Africanist scholarship at the university, but that’s not difficult given the small and narrow focus of the university’s Africa focus now, but many of us are hoping it will do more. After recent faculty departures and downsizing across the area studies, it is good to see a focus specifically on Africa, but I’m not yet convinced it will fulfill its potential. Unfortunately, a lot of this is dependent on donors rather than university governance, largely because Yale hasn’t committed as much to the campaign as it could. My hope is that, in a couple of years, I’ll be able to say that I was wrong.

I interviewed about a dozen people – professors, former professors, alumni, and students – and sent an e-mail survey to about a dozen African Studies students. I also worked tirelessly with two editors who took a 6,000 word statistic- and quote-ridden article and made it legible. The design team also put together a wonderful graphic for the magazine’s cover that essentially sums up why the piece needed to be written. I want to thank everybody involved for helping make it what it is, because they seriously deserve it. I also want to encourage everybody interested to continue to think about how Yale (or any university) can engage with the scholarship it promotes, and what it means to focus on Africa as a university.

More on Yale-Africa

Pardon the absence, folks. Hopefully this blog will be back up to speed soon, but in the mean time I thought I’d share news on the Yale-Africa front, in the form of two other op-eds in the college daily.

First, the editorial board at the Yale Daily News published an editorial which urges Yale to hire more faculty, which meshes with what most students have been saying:

If the University is to attract students and faculty passionate about engaging with Africa, its core program cannot remain in shambles. Before reaching out to African institutions, Yale must ensure that students have adequate resources to study the continent.

The most significant step is to increase faculty hiring. As a program, African Studies cannot formally hire professors and must lobby departments, such as History, for Africanist scholars. While two Africanist professors will begin at Yale next year, the program will still be reeling from last year’s losses.

Currently, many departments only hire one or two Africanists. Each should have multiple experts on Africa — ensuring that an entire field of scholarship will not be neglected due to the natural ebb and flow of faculty.

To ensure that Africanist faculty will be retained, Salovey should endeavor to find donors for endowed professorships devoted to African scholarship. An endowed chair would allow Yale to transition in new distinguished faculty whenever a position is left vacant.

A week after that, an undergraduate penned this op-ed, highlighting the exclusiveness of some Yale events. She also highlights problems with language study, which has been touched on before, but this bears quoting:

During my freshman year, I was shocked but excited to find a course in Igbo, my parents’ mother tongue and one of Nigeria’s three most widely spoken languages. I took the class, enjoyed it and left for the summer looking forward to continuing my study of Igbo in the fall. Over the summer, I received an email asking me whether I planned to take a course in Igbo my sophomore year. I responded that I did. The next thing I heard was that the Igbo class had been cancelled. I didn’t receive any explanation. I applied to take Igbo through the Directed Independent Language Study program. DILS rejected my application each time, citing the Selection Committee’s challenge of “limited funding.”

As I mentioned a while ago, we’re in the very, very early stages of the Yale Africa Initiative. These are just some of the voices that are chiming in, and we’re all eagerly waiting what else the university will announce.

Yale Looks to Africa, With Blinders On

In his inaugural address last weekend, Yale’s new president, Peter Salovey, talked about Africa at length when he discussed Yale’s educational mission:

 Eleven of the world’s twenty fastest-growing economies are African.3 With the growing influence of the African continent on the world economy, as well as increased migration to, from, and within Africa, this is the moment to bring scholarship and teaching about Africa at Yale into sharper focus. Working collaboratively, we can foster new directions in research on Africa, identify new partnerships with those on the continent, and strengthen our recruitment efforts, all while emphasizing teaching and learning. Our current scholarship on Africa already draws on many disciplines throughout the university — from African language, history, and cultural traditions to global health research, to field experiments in development economics, to issues of sustainability, to research on emerging democracies, to theater projects with Tanzanian artists. For many years, my laboratory collaborated on HIV/AIDS prevention research in South Africa, and Marta is helping with an environmental and public health project involving the Masai.

A greater focus on Africa is just one example of how we aspire to unite research with teaching and learning, how in our research laboratories and our classrooms we can effect change beyond them, and how we can bring the world to Yale and Yale to the world.

This statement wasn’t completely unexpected, to those of us watching Yale’s Africa program closely. Over the summer several administrators have been putting things in motion, and this fall the gradual roll-out of the new Yale Africa Initiative has been ongoing. The Initiative, still in its very nascent stages, aims to be a university-wide shift to focus on Africa. It’s an idea I’m supportive of, but the vision being put forth is less than satisfactory. The vision for a new African focus doesn’t seem to include new faculty, improved language study, or increased course offerings, among other things. I won’t be nearly as in depth on it right now as I will be in the future, mostly because several students (myself included) are working together to draw attention to the pros and cons of the Initiative. This has already begun, in the form of my colleague Akinyi Ochieng’s column at the Yale Daily News, in which she highlights the importance of language study, student recruitment, and career service focus. The middle item seems to be the primary focus of the Initiative, including a recent $1 million gift from a Liberian Yale alum that will go towards financial aid for African applicants, the latter has been talked about to a lesser extent and the former not at all.

This blog will track the goings-on of Yale’s relationship with Africa, African students, and Africanist scholarship. As I anticipate this being a long process, I’m starting a new tag for it. Hopefully the Initiative expands and addresses all the major aspects of African(ist) studies at Yale as it develops. Fingers crossed.

African Studies and Militarization

Last month, an article by David Wiley, “Militarizing Africa and African Studies and the U.S. Africanist Response,” [gated] appeared in African Studies Review. It’s an important look at what Africanist scholars face in an increasingly militarized field. The piece examines how area studies programs initially developed during the Cold War (for a quick look at that, read this) and how many scholars dealt with attempts to militarize their field. He discusses how there were some scholars in all area studies who were involved in policy-making, but that many were critical of American interventionist policies. Africanists were actually late to the game in this, Wiley explains, but once they did organize against U.S. foreign involvement, (in the 70s, in Angola and South Africa), it was strong and resolute.

Africanists had a lot to criticize in U.S. Africa policy, from backing dictators to arming rebels to assassinating democratically elected leaders. In an effort to gain favor, the Defense Intelligence Agency offered four Title VI universities (there are 11 universities with African Studies programs that receive funds from the Department of Education, among other Title VI centers for other areas) large amounts of funds to work with the government, an offer which they refused. Beyond that, the directors of all of the Title VI National Resource Centers for Africa voted not to apply for or accept any military or intelligence funding in 1982, and in 2008 reaffirmed that position, stating that:

We believe that the long-term interests of the people of the U.S. are best served by this separation between academic and military and defense establishments. Indeed, in the climate of the post–Cold War years in Africa and the security concerns after 9/11/2001, we believe that it is a patriotic policy to make this separation. This separation ensures that U.S. students and faculty researchers can maintain close ties with African researchers and affiliation with and access to African institutions without question or bias. Such separation, we believe, can produce the knowledge and understanding of Africa that serves the broad interests of the people of the United States as well as our partners in Africa.

At the same time, the Association of African Studies Programs also voted to reject military and intelligence funding for programs, and argued that no scholar or program should accept funding from those sources. But while these acts of independence began in the midst of the Cold War, and were reaffirmed in the context of U.S. involvement in the Global War on Terror and in Iraq, things have shifted in the last few years. With AFRICOM coming onto the field with it’s whole-of-government approach, Africanists have faced a growing threat in the militarization of academic scholarship. Wiley gives a long list of examples of AFRICOM’s actions on the ground:

  • Establishing Camp Lemonier in Djibouti as the base for AFRICOM and allied military units, in addition to ~2000 personnel in Stuttgart, Molesworth, and MacDill AFB
  • Establishing the Social Science Research Council in Stuttgart and supporting the Socio-Cultural Research and Advisory Team to provide troops with cultural knowledge.
  • Creating an AFRICOM liason unit at AU headquarters in Ethiopia
  • Building a CIA operations base in Somalia with prison, planes, and counterterrorism training for Somali intelligence agents.
  • Establishing bases in Seychelles, Djibouti, and Ethiopia for drones.
  • Expanding intelligence operations with private contractors.
  • Expanding U.S. Special Operations teams in countries without government permission (apparently based on a 2010 directive by Gen. Petraeus.
  • Training hundreds of African military officers at conferences.
  • Mounting AFRICOM-led operations in Libya and Somalia
  • Providing 100 troops to work with Central African armies in an anti-LRA campaign.
  • Increasing the number of army personnel stationed in Africa by 3000 in Central Africa, Mali, and Somalia.

In addition to all of this, AFRICOM’s whole-of-government approach has included engaging in both diplomatic and development work on top of traditional military duties. While some hail this as a more integrated approach, it also blurs the lines between military and non-military actors. As a result, State Department officials and USAID personnel, and even non-governmental aid workers, are being viewed as part of America’s military involvement in Africa.

While this was all occurring in Africa, in the United States the field of African Studies has faced a similarly forceful push of militarization. Wiley notes an “unprecedented surge of funding for studying Africa and African languages in the DOD, in intelligence agencies, and in military-focused higher education institutions.” He also estimates that “funding for the study of Africa in U.S. security agencies now exceeds that of American universities probably by a factor of fifty, perhaps more,” despite the fact that universities offer more languages and better instruction. On top of all of this, DoD also sponsors three programs to fund the study of Africa in civilian institutions: the National Security Education Program, the Minerva Research Initiative, and Human Terrain Systems (I worked briefly on a Minerva project while I was a fellow at ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, and wrote about it and Human Terrain Teams here).

All of these programs are well-funded projects of the Defense Department, while the U.S. Department of Education cut 46% of Title VI area studies centers (including the 11 Africa universities), with the government favoring area and language study programs run by DoD. In addition to this, the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Disseration Abroad and Faculty Research Abroad programs were suspended in 2011 and the Summer Cooperative African Language Institute was cancelled in 2012. With non-military funding opportunities shrinking, scholars (and students) are facing a dilemma in how to acquire funds to carry out research and teaching.

In this time of austerity, especially at public universities, there is a growing sense that civilian agency funding is collapsing and military and intelligence funding increasingly is the “only game in town.” As a result, two university African centers and linguists in two other universities that have Title VI Africa centers (with the dissent of their African center faculty), have taken funding for African language instruction programs from the DOD’s NSEP.

Africanist scholars are beginning to fall under the control of the military as DoD-funded projects dictate what they study, where they do research, and what questions they ask. From here, things will only get worse. Title VI universities are already worried about Foreign Language and Area Studies funding suffering even more egregious cuts (FLAS grants arrive in three-year packages, and the current round of funding expires next summer), and other sources of funding will also be disappearing if Congress continues to cut funding (one needs only to peruse the Department of Education grants site to see how many programs have been suspended or cancelled). Wiley paints a sad picture of where area studies programs stand now, and the possible future we might find ourselves in. If the military controls more and more funding for higher education, our colleges, scholars, and students will have less options. As DoD annexes the social sciences and humanities, will the leading African Studies programs in the country be able to maintain their independence from military control? Or will all researchers and students trying to work in the region be following the army’s orders?