- 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
- USAC OFFICERS:
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
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
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
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
Africa and the Liberal Arts, Colorado College, April 18 to 20, 2008. (pdf)
Conference registration click here.