• Greetings from the Editor
    Welcome to the Spring 2008 edition of The USAC Newsletter. In our inaugural edition issued in spring of 2007, we had indicated an intention to publish the Newsletter twice a year, in the fall and spring. Under this original plan, we should have published a fall 2007 edition. Unfortunately, there were some practical difficulties with publishing two editions a year. We sincerely apologize to our readers. We have decided to publish the Newsletter annually, hence this Spring 2008 edition.

    The Newsletter provides a forum for disseminating information on the activities and initiatives of the University System Africa Council. It also highlights African- related news from the 35 institutions that make up the University System of Georgia. We are particularly interested in articles pertaining to Africa and Africans (including news and notes, travel reports, photo essays, opinion articles, and book reviews).

    Please send your submissions for the Spring 2009 edition by November 28, 2008 to Olufunke A. Fontenot at funke.fontenot

    CHAIR: Palmer , Georgia College & State University

    VICE CHAIR: Nurudeen Akinyemi, Kennesaw State University

    SECRETARY: Diane Napier, University of Georgia

    TREASURER: David Hunter, Georgia Southwestern State University

    PARLIAMENTARIAN: John Studstill, Columbus State University

    NEWSLETTER EDITOR: Olufunke A. Fontenot, Georgia College & State University

    WEBMASTER: James Kahiga, Georgia Perimeter College

African Union Ambassador Visits Georgia College on Friday, February 22, 2007

Dr. Eustace Palmer, Georgia College & State University
Olufunke A. Fontenot, Georgia College & State University

Her Excellency, the Honorable H.E. Amina S. Ali, the African Union Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary to the United States of America paid a visit to Georgia College & State University on Friday, February 22, 2008.  The Ambassador delivered a public lecture on, "The Role of the African Union in Resolving Conflicts in Africa." She also met with President Dorothy Leland and various other university officials. Ambassador Ali's visit opens the opportunity for collaboration and institutional linkages (such as opportunities for service learning for our students) with the AU Mission in Washington DC, the AU headquarters in Addis Abba, as well as with individual member states. 

The visit was jointly sponsored by the Office of the Dean, College of Arts & Science; the Africana Studies, and Interdisciplinary Studies programs.

Ambassador Ali is the first ambassador for the African Union to the US, and it is notable that a woman was appointed to this very important position. Ambassador Ali presented her Letter of Credence to President George W. Bush at the White House on July 25, 2007.  The presentation of credentials accrediting Ambassador Amina Salum Ali, a national of the United Republic of Tanzania, marks a new chapter in the relationship between Africa and the United States. President Bush said the United States "stands ready to support" the African Union, which he described as "integral to the continued growth and successful future of Africa."  The President further noted the historic significance of the decision  of the United States to become the "first non-African Country to establish a separate diplomatic mission to the organization," and reaffirmed his Administration's commitment to "building and strengthening the relationship between the states and peoples of Africa."

The African Union (AU) is the African counterpart to the European Union. It is the successor organization to the former Organization of African Unity which was established in 1963 under the visionary leadership of late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana; Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; and President Tubman of Liberia. The realization of this vision was itself the culmination, not just of the process of decolonization and the drive toward independence of many African countries, but also of several pan-African congresses held in the first part of the twentieth century in the United States, Europe, and Africa and supported by such stalwarts as W.E.B.Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and George Padmore with the intention of furthering the total development not only of the African continent, but also of members of the African Diaspora, and bind them together in a common purpose. The creation of an African Union was seen to be crucial to this overarching purpose of promoting the total development of the peoples of Africa.

Increasingly, the African Union has played an important role in peacekeeping and in seconding forces to various parts of Africa to stabilize the security situation. This is an aspect of its work that has been often underplayed or overlooked. In this connection, its forces have been instrumental in areas such as Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast, and its counsels have helped tremendously in putting an end to the civil wars that at one time ravaged the continent.

For more information on the African Union, visit its website at

The 11th Annual (2007) Southeast Model African Union (SEMAU) conference sponsored by the University System Africa Council, was held on November 1-3 at the Clarkston campus of Georgia Perimeter College (GPC).

James Kahiga, Georgia Perimeter College
Olufunke A. Fontenot, Georgia College & State University

SEMAU is a simulation of the proceedings of the African Union. It provides a unique opportunity for university and college students to study the role, structure and performance of the African Union in the search for solutions to key economic, social, and political-security issues facing the African continent. Through simulation, participants gain a better and clearer understanding of the multi-various determinants, capabilities and constraints that shape the domestic and foreign policies of African countries as well as the patterns of cooperation and conflict that characterize intra-African diplomacy. This event affords students an opportunity to learn about diplomatic and governmental organizations through a unique simulation experience. The experience enriches and enhances students' understanding of the political, economic, and cultural dimensions of different African countries and how they relate to each other and to the rest of the world as members of the African Union.

Experience has shown that this mode of learning is very empowering. When the delegation members take on characteristics of their chosen countries and develop an understanding of African issues from an African perspective, they gain knowledge that is rewarding to them in their collegiate and community endeavors. About 140 students and faculty attended the 3-day conference. 12 institutions of the University System of Georgia and one private institution (Mercer University) were represented.

The system institutions represented are: Armstrong Atlantic State University, Augusta State University, Columbus State University, Georgia College & State University, Georgia Perimeter College, Georgia Southern University, Georgia Southwest State University, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, Macon State College, Middle Georgia College, and University of West Georgia. There were 23 delegations, representing 23 African nations. Each delegation had between 6-7 students each. Georgia Perimeter College, the host institution, sponsored six delegations representing all five college campuses.

Dr. Tricoli, President of GPC addressed the opening session. Other speakers at the session include, Mr. Phil Smith, Dean of Business, GPC; Dr. Paul Hudson, Chair of Business/Social Science, Clarkston Campus, GPC; Ms. Susan Pratt, Assistant Director, Office of International Education, USG; and two faculty representatives of University System Africa Council (Dr. Eustace Palmer, Chair; and Dr. Saba Jallow, immediate past Chair).

This year, the conference was privileged to host four special guests from Washington DC. For the first time, an official of the African Union participated in SEMAU. Her Excellecy Amina Saloum Ali, Ambassador of the African Union to the United States, attended and addressed the closing ceremony on Saturday November 3. Ambassador Ali also held a meeting with a selected group of faculty where she explained her mission and what she hopes to accomplish in terms of forming partnerships in the United States. She expressed her appreciation in the whole concept of SEMAU and explained that it (SEMAU) is an exemplary example of the partnerships that she hopes to initiate and work with. The AU flag was hoisted and the AU national anthem played during the closing ceremony. Ambassador Ali was accompanied by Ms. Louise Bailey, Policy Advisor at the embassy.

Other guests included Dr. Sulayman Nyang, Professor of African Studies, Howard; and Dr. Michael Nwanze, Professor & Director, Seminars in Diplomacy, Howard University, and convener of the National Model African Union.

Film Review, Keita: Heritage of the Griot

Dr. John Studstill, Columbus State University

Africanists are often justifiably annoyed by how movies made in the West treat Africa and African subjects, particularly since the treatments have generally been few and far between. Some recent Hollywood movies however have showed some improvements and have almost made us happy. I'm thinking particularly of "The Constant Gardener," "The Last King of Scotland," and "Blood Diamonds." But even here the lead roles and heroes or heroines seem to almost always be played by European or U.S. actors, albeit with some increasingly positive African characters, and the point of view is relentlessly Western. Even with this progress noted, the filmmakers seem to feel they must take away something even as they try to be sympathetic. For example, the good African in "The Constant Gardener" is gay, and the good Euros are sucked into a kind of African nightmare of perfidious African sell-outs (admittedly corrupted not just by their Africanness but also by Western corporate greed and neo-colonial politics). These films seem to subconsciously perpetuate the colonial relationships between Africa and the West, always seen through Western eyes. In "The Last King of Scotland," Idi Amin is still the weird and crazy dictator foiled somewhat by the good doctor from England, a reincarnation of David Livingstone.

This is why seeing a movie by a truly African filmmaker of the stature of Dani Kouyate (Burkina Faso), with realistic and sympathetic African characters (not too good, not too bad, just human), with a classically African theme, is so refreshing. Made in 1995, this hour and a half film intertwines two stories--a recreation of the Political Epic of the Mande people of West Africa called Sundyata Keta (various spellings) and the contemporary coming of age story of Mabo, a young descendant of the great culture hero Sundyata. Mabo is a schoolboy living in an unidentified city in Burkina Faso.

The film has a number of worthwhile features: first, a re-creation of 13th century life in the ancient empire of Mali, presented in a mythical format with supernatural events surrounding the early years of the great hero Sundyata; second the interweaving of this story with the life of Mabo who struggles to understand this ancient legend in the context of his contemporary Western-style schooling and scientific education; thirdly, the presentation of a certain West African spirituality that is found in the context of a modern Islamic culture, at times uneasily co-habiting with many traditional African religious beliefs that are still vibrant throughout Africa today, such as clan and lineage ancestor respect or veneration, and belief in the supernatural powers of religious specialists cum diviners cum "griots." For non-specialists it may be necessary to mention that the griot is somewhat different from oracles and fortune-tellers in other cultures in that he is also a "praise-singer/historian," a caste of persons who specialize in memorizing the clan and ethnic histories that make up much of the oral literature of the pre-Islamic cultural matrix of West Africa. Similar specialists, with certain variations are found virtually throughout Africa. When the film ends, Mabo seems on the verge of being expelled from school, mesmerized as he is by the stories of his ancestors, tempted to leave the somewhat annoying sterility of the modern classroom, and at odds with his somewhat modern mother and father over his adolescent need to develop his own identity.

The viewer is mesmerized by the complexity of symbolic meanings presented in this religio-political epic wherein the religious meanings are juxtaposed with and somewhat camouflaged by the political struggles for control of an emerging empire--the struggle between Sundyata and his elder brother, the legitimate heir of the pre-empire Mande king. The film has time only to deal with the first chapter of this epic concerned with the lineage of Sundyata, particularly his grandmother, his mother, and his father. His grandmother is a mythical Buffalo/Woman, who must be slain by the somewhat comical Hunter/Hero. He accomplishes this with magic but is nonetheless unable to possess the ogre's daughter (Sokolo), the future mother of Sundyata, so the daughter passes to the King of the Mande. This first chapter also focuses on the struggle between the mothers of the two princes, two competing wives of the King. The mother of Sundyata is the deformed and ugly Sokolo, whom the king marries only because a soothsayer has predicted that she will be the mother of the future king and emperor of Old Mali. The mother of his rival is the senior, beautiful wife who fears the loss of her son's and her own priority. Like the hunter who first failed to impregnate the powerful and hideous Sokolo, the king is at first defeated by her ability to transform into a lioness, a porcupine and other animal doubles--a feature that introduces the main comic element into the film. With the aid of his griot-cum-magician the king finally succeeds and Sundyata is the eventual result--very eventual, one must add, because the pregnancy lasts "18 months and some say even three years." Sundyata is also deformed and crippled-- the cause of the further humiliation of his physically deformed mother. From childhood he drags himself around the courtyard of the King, tortured by other boys, humiliated and yet violent and capable of self-defense with his enormous arms. In the climax of the first long chapter of the epic, after many years during which it appears that the prophecies concerning his future are baseless lies, Sundyata finally, with a dramatic and enormous effort, pulls himself upright, first using an especially forged iron beam with which he is only partially successful, and finally with a slender branch of the sun-sun tree. The exegesis of the many symbols in this myth would be the work of a mythologian and specialist of the Mande culture, however I will hazard the guess that the religious meaning of this first climactic event--Sundyata finally stands up--is that success does not come through human technology alone (the iron rod), important though it may be, but by reliance on the ancestral spirits, the natural and biological forces that will nourish the hero (the sun-sun tree). The king is compared by the griot to a tree, whose roots must sink into the earth and into the mythical past--he must rely on his clan, his ancestors and his society, not just on technological superiority. Also, the Hero must be one who struggles to overcome great moral challenges, not just one who easily falls into the lap of privilege and the seduction of political power and dominance.

In this retelling of the myth, there is also an obvious and very important, though somewhat mysterious, sub-text concerning the place of women in Mande society. Or rather should we say there is an emphasis on the relationships, conflicts and struggles between men and women, or even male and female principles? Fertility results from these conflicts and from the eventual harmonization of opposing principles in this epic as in many other religious and political myths. Finally, the charm of the film also results from the interweaving of the contemporary family drama between Mabo, his mother, and his father with the mythical drama just described. The place of Mabo's mother in her new and modern roles do not always seem to be approved by the filmmaker who makes her seem a bit domineering and too divorced from traditional behavior to suit the griot/filmmaker's tastes--(yes, I conclude that Mr. Kouyate sees himself as the modern Griot, counselor to the king, prophet, purveyor of religious and cultural meaning to a society in danger of losing its soul to the seductions of modern education and technology).

The most powerful image I retain from the film is the last scene--Mabo looks up, after his Griot departs for his village, and sees a vulture gliding overhead. He has been told that this bird is the totem (the animal avatar) of his newly discovered teacher/griot. All of a sudden one feels that the bird really is watching over him and that the world has been re-enchanted--birds are no longer just birds, they are now spiritual forces as well as natural creations, representatives of a deeper social and spiritual reality, friends who will be one's guardians in a newly meaningful world.

The View from Table Mountain's Top

By Angela R. Bratton, Ph.D.
Anthropologist at Augusta State University

Standing at the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa is one of the more memorable experiences of my life. It was a warm sunny day, unusual I was told for the winter season in June. Table Mountain rises high above the city of Cape Town which is spread out between the mountain and the Atlantic Ocean. Instead of rising to a peak, the mountain is flat on top, giving it the appearance of a table top. Like many vistas in my two week stay in South Africa, this view was breathtaking. I was in South Africa with nearly 40 students and faculty from Augusta State University who were visiting on a study abroad trip. ASU strives to offer a selection of short-term study abroad projects in an effort to increase opportunities for students who cannot get away from family or work obligations for longer periods of time. This was ASU's second trip to Africa in the last year (the first being Senegal). In South Africa we offered courses in Anthropology/History, Business, Social Work, Communications, and Wellness. South Africa was a terrific vantage point to introduce students to the African continent. South Africa boasts extraordinary scenery, terrific food, some of the oldest and most diverse cultures, incredible extremes in living conditions, etc. Here our students saw a glimpse of all of these things while making a contribution towards erasing these extreme economic differences.

Our introduction to Cape Town started with our hotel, a nicely remodeled prison, at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. The Waterfront offered all the amenities that one would expect from a cosmopolitan city: a huge shopping mall, a variety of restaurants, and closed sewers. Reminders that we were in Africa and not a European city came from some of the food options and items for sale in store windows. However, our introduction to another side of Cape Town came with our work with the Amy Biehl Foundation. Biehl was an American Fulbright student who was killed at the end of apartheid because she was the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her life and death and that of her family's forgiveness are extraordinary stories about our shared humanity. We had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Linda Biehl who traveled to Cape Town from the U.S. to show us the Foundation's work and the townships that she has come to know. We also saw all of this through the eyes of Biehl's murderers who are now working for the Foundation. Their story is glimpse at the larger country's efforts at reconciliation since the apartheid era.

Our group spent three days working with the Amy Biehl Foundation in township primary schools. Our original plans to work with the students and teachers did not happen because of a teachers' strike and closed schools. Instead we worked with people from the Foundation to do an extreme makeover of two schools' gardens. The opportunity for the schoolchildren to work in the gardens will help the inner city" students learn about the environment, nutrition, and growing their own food. We also saw the greenhouse that ASU students fundraised to buy (see photo). Giving back to the community was very important for the trips' participants. We were surprised to learn from the Foundation that usually when other groups visit them they rarely express interest in visiting the township. They are even less likely to get out of their bus, much less roll up their sleeves to help. Our ability to leave school supplies and toys collected in the US, in addition to the greenhouse, as well as the gardens we toiled over, was truly service learning. The needs in the township contrasted severely with what we saw at the Waterfront when we returned home in the evening, and gave many of the students a chance to glimpse real poverty and social inequality.

The rest of the trip was filled with adventure and learning. We traveled on a safari, to an ostrich farm, zipping along a canopy tour among 900 year old trees, visiting a penguin habitat, and the botanical gardens. The beauty of the natural environment was at times accentuated by houses such as the ones in the Malay District of Cape Town. Other times the human factor reminded us of the past, present, and future of not only South Africa but all of humanity. In the cold rain we visited Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island and could only imagine how miserable it would have been to be imprisoned there for political reasons. I asked myself and my students if there was something that I believed in so strongly that I would be willing to take risks for that cause that would lead to nearly 30 years in prison? Much of South Africa's history has interesting parallels to the U.S.: the European colonization over the indigenous people, the importation of slaves, apartheid (think Jim Crow Laws), the current rhetoric about the "Rainbow Nation" (multiculturalism), and xenophobia. We walked past the Parliament buildings in Cape Town where the apartheid laws were approved. These buildings are literally across the street from the church in which Archbishop Desmond Tutu ministered as he spoke out against apartheid.

As we drove past a squatter settlement or informal dwellings as they like to call them in South Africa, we saw a sign posted by the government that read "We build a better future." The irony was not lost on our group. There is a lot of optimism that South Africa can build a strong multicultural nation-state not only for the people of South Africa, but for the people of Africa, and the world. Their strength to accomplish this change is not only in the economic resources like diamonds, but especially in the people. The world will be watching South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, in 2010 as it hosts the World Cup. The legacy of racism that apartheid left in its wake at times seems insurmountable just like Table Mountain. With the support of the world, can they skip many of the mistakes that the U.S. made in our attempts to end racism? In whatever way they achieve equity, that accomplishment is like Table Mountain. The view from the top is inspiring and I along with students and faculty from ASU feel invested in that process of reconciliation so that our sisters and brothers in South Africa can overcome the negative aspects of the past and embrace a future working together.

All photos by Bratton
For more information on the Amy Biehl Foundation visit http://www.amybiehl.org/.

Columbus State University African Studies, Recent History

By Dr. John Studstill, Columbus State University

The creation of an African Studies Certificate Program in 2003 has aroused a great deal of interest and support within the University. Housed in the department of Psychology/Sociology the program has brought together 12 African and Africanist professors who offer courses in the 18-credit hour certificate program. The first certificates were awarded in Spring 2007. Since its inception the Program has had some signal successes, notably the presentation given by Dr. Ali Mazrui in 2004 as part of the events launching the Certificate program, and the holding of the Southeast Model African Union (SEMAU) on campus in 2005. Dr. Mazrui's lecture titled "Africa in the Age of Globalization" was attended by approximately 200 campus and community members, while the SEMAU, 2005 was attended by around 200 faculty and students as well as by a number of dignitaries including the mayor of Columbus.

Each year the campus has been able to highlight at least one Africanist from a variety of different specialties. One greatly anticipated lecture is to be by Dr. Nurudeen Akinyemi, Vice-Chair of USAC and professor of political science at Kennesaw State, on "Africa in the World and the World in Africa." Not to be overshadowed by outside scholars, CSU's own Dr. John Studstill recently gave a well-attended lecture on his specialty--the Mythology and Religious Thought of the Luba of Katanga. Utilizing the methodology of the father of Anthropological Structuralism, Claude Levi-Strauss, Dr. Studstill was able to show some surprising (and to some rather shocking) deep-structural similarities, between Christian beliefs and Luba religious thought. Continuing these high-profile activities, the Program was fortunate to be able to host in fall 2006 Dr. Joyce Mpanga, first woman member of parliament in Uganda and former minister of Gender and Community Development in the government of Yoweri Museveni. Her lecture topic was "Women, Development and the AIDS Crisis in East Africa." In spring semester, 2007, Dr. Wotsuna Khamalwa was invited to campus as a visiting professor of African Studies. A professor at Makerere University and a specialist in the area of religion and ritual, he taught two courses, one in African Religions and the other in People and Cultures of Africa. The highlight of his visit was his analysis of the rituals surrounding male circumcision among the Bamasaba of Eastern Uganda, utilizing a very engrossing film and information from his book on the same subject recently published in Germany. Dr Khamalwa's Ph.D. is from the University of Beyreuth in Bavaria. Adding to his wealth of experience was his early years as a member of a Catholic order and his teaching experience at a University in Wales. Finding a great deal in common with Dr. Studstill's and Dr. Wakoko's interests, plans have been made to continue research into comparisons between certain ethnic groups in Uganda and Congo in the areas of religious thought, rituals of circumcision, and the important roles of women in these male-oriented rituals.

News and Notes

The University System Africa Council (USAC) will lead a faculty development seminar to Nigeria in May 2008. The seminar, titled "Artistic Expressions of Culture: Literature, the Visual and Performing Arts of Nigeria" will expose participants to the rich, vibrant and dynamic cultures of Nigeria. Host institutions include the University of Lagos, and Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife.

The African Symposium is the online journal of the African Educational Research Network. The current Managing Editor is David A. Adewuyi, a professor at Albany State University in Georgia. The journal publishes original research about educational and human development issues on and in Africa. Researchers of African affairs, where ever they may be, are encouraged to submit articles to the journal. The journal is refereed and peer-reviewed. Most African universities recognize TAS published articles for promotion and tenure considerations. The AERN website is africanresearch.org.

Africa Network National Conference

The Africa Network announces a national Conference on Africa and the Liberal Arts, April 18-20, 2008, at Colorado College. For information about the conference and conference registration, visit the websites below.

Africa and the Liberal Arts, Colorado College, April 18 to 20, 2008. (pdf)

Conference registration click here.

Georgia College & State University Africana Studies
Olufunke A. Fontenot, Professor of Criminal Justice & Assistant Dean, College of Arts & Science•funke.fontenot@gcsu.edu
Phone: (478) 445-4441 •Fax: (478) 445-0873 •Mailing Address: CBX 048, Milledgeville, GA 31061