There are weeks that test the limits of your patience and then there are weeks like this past one that renew your commitment to life and the discipline of Africana Studies! Last week, Morehouse College’s Dr. Belinda Johnson-White, (Director of the Business Management Program) and yours truly (Director of African American Studies), hosted a Symposium on the African Great Lakes entitled, “Building Africana Leadership Capacity for the Twenty-first Century” (BALC21) bring together faculty, activists and students committed to researching exploring, establishing Rodneyite Groundings with our people in the African Lakes nations. Except for Ms. Fatu Suah of Columbia, SC, our participants were based in the Atlanta Region and hailed from the United States and three African nations. Our participants included Ida Rousseau-Mukenge, Ph.D. (Chair, Sociology Department), Cynthia Hewitt, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Sociology, AAS Affiliate), Claude Gatabuke and Kambali Musavuli, respectively, of the African Great Lakes Action Network and Friends of the Congo, Justin Kakeu-Kahegne, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Economics, Gregory Barber, Psychology Major, African American Studies, Minor, and Juana Mendenhall, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Chemistry. Unfortunately, Sister Fatu Suah was not able to attend. Those who were able to attend were treated to carefully researched and well-thought out positions on problems facing the African Great Lakes. (See BALC21 Schedule)
A major highlight of the symposium was reconnecting with and bringing to the Atlanta University Center, Dr. Kennedy Kihangi Bindu, founding Director of the Center for Research on Democracy and Development in Africa, Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Administration and Professor, School of Law at the Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs (ULPGL). We, five Morehouse College faculty and staff, originally met this intelligent young man in March of 2014 on a fact-finding trip to North Kivu, DRC. Dr. White and I were interested in learning of Civil Society agency and resilience evident in the North Kivu region, which had suffered greatly during the 1996 and 1998 African Great Wars and the re-invasion of DRC by Rwanda in 2011. Goma, sitting on the north shore of beautiful Lake Kivu and near the border with Rwanda was the crossroads of the Interahamwe genocidaires, rebel armies, Rwandan regular forces, and refugees from both nations. Among the AGL community members, we found in Dr. Bindu, a man committed to healing the scars of warfare through careful research and engagement with communities from both urban and rural settings. It was my honor to host Kennedy on his arrival after a nearly 24-hour journey from Goma to Kigali to Amsterdam and then to Atlanta. After greeting and picking him up at the airport, a brief conversation and repast at our East Point home, we joined Mr. Julius Coles for dinner at the historic Paschal’s restaurant. The next day’s visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights marked a weekend’s crash-course for Kennedy in African American Civil Rights movement history.
We took the opportunity to discuss African American Civil Rights history held at times in tension and compared with South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and nascent struggles in Congo, Burundi, Senegal and Burkina Faso among others. Kennedy was impressed and moved by the way this history lives in Atlanta.
On Tuesday, April 11th, the core of Dr. Bindu’s BALC21 presentation, entitled, “Understanding African Great Lakes Region Leadership and Governance challenges: Drawing lessons from the Democratic Republic of the Congo” was to get at the core task of
“distinguish(ing) between the leaders and intellectuals of the independence era and those that have emerged during the twenty-first century in terms of leadership, partnerships, diplomacy, intellectualism, management of public affairs, political systems, human rights and respect for fundamental freedoms.”
What was truly impressive about all of the panels was both the organic relationship between each presenter and their research, but also their commitment to establishing groundings with the people of the region. For example, African American studies minor and Psychology major, Greg Barber, benefiting from the mentorship of Dr. Tina Davis and a fellowship with the School for International Training spent a semester in Rwanda where he undertook qualitative research on “Positive Grief Coping Strategies among Tutsi Orphans of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.” Drawing from the thrust of his talk, all of the presenters were getting at the question, How (will) We Heal Ourselves?
The healing process continued two days after the Tuesday symposium, when Rwandan students from the Atlanta University Center and Agnes Scott College organized a Kwibuka ceremony commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The scars of the 1994 trauma score the African Great Lakes region and the consciences of Africans and people across the planet. Two years later, the deaths of a million Rwandans
set the conditions for the African Great Wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which by 2008 claimed at least 5 and a half million lives. The region’s death toll of nearly 7 million Africans in acts of fratricidal violence made incumbent that the healing process take place, at least in part, on the campus of Morehouse College, home of Howard Thurman, Benjamin Elijah Mays and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Our charge, we felt emanated from those paragons of peace and the heart of Patrice Emery Lumumba, First Prime Minister of independent Congo-Kinshasa:
“It is through these person-to-person contacts, through meetings of this sort, that African leaders can get to know each other and draw closer together in order to create that union that is indispensable for the consolidation of African unity.”2
For one week, Morehouse College brought together Congolese professors and Rwandan students hearing each others’ voices, stories and, hopefully, truly seeing each other as self.