Africa symposium to separate fact from fiction

Courtesy photo: Francis Owusu

BROOKINGS – True or false?

Africa is the world’s second-largest nation.

The African landscape is dominated by jungles and rural villages.

Corruption and anarchy dominate Africa’s political landscape.

All three statements are false. Africa is a continent, not a nation. Only a small portion of the continent is jungles and rain forests. The Sahara Desert makes up one-third of Africa, and Africa is becoming more and more urbanized. The continent’s political bearings are as varied as its landscape, which stretches from the tips of Spain and Italy to a latitude equivalent to southern Australia.

Such false and outdated stereotypes will be the focus of a two-day symposium on the South Dakota State University campus Jan. 28-29.

Sponsored by the South Dakota World Affairs Council, the free symposium will be held in the Volstorff Ballroom in the University Student Union. It’s entitled “Africa: Diversity, Myths, Successes and Challenges” and includes a 7 p.m. Jan. 28 keynote address and three panel talks Jan. 29, according to Professor Emeritus Bob Burns, who serves as the chairman of the South Dakota World Affairs Council.

The keynote address – “An Overview of the Human, Political, Economic and Geographical Diversity of Africa” – will be given by Ghana native Francis Owusu, an Iowa State professor who chairs the Department of Community and Regional Planning at the Ames institution.

“There is a lack of understanding of Africa’s diversity. I want to demystify the view of Africa as a hopeless continent with widespread poverty. We often joke about people who look at Africa as a country instead of a continent. However, when we deal with African countries with such a one-size-fits all attitude, it isn’t laughable.

“For instance, when we look specifically at investments in Africa, we find that they play out differently in different parts of Africa,” said Owusu, who also is affiliated with the African and African American Studies program at Iowa State.

He also will be participating in the panel discussion “Africa’s Role in Present Day Global Affairs.”

Owusu said, “People hear there is war in Sudan, so they think there is war in Africa, or that there is Ebola in the Congo, so they say there is Ebola in Africa. We should look at Africa as a place for investment rather than a place to save starving children or as a haven for terrorists.”

While those problems are all part of the struggles challenging the continent, people aren’t aware that “even with the economic crisis in 2008, Africa was one of the few places that kept growing. Africa is a global resource for oil, an investment frontier and a global market that both the U.S. and China are trying to take advantage of,” Owusu said. 

Panel topics

• “Africa’s Role in Present Day Global Affairs,” 9:30-10:45 a.m. Owusu; Nacasius Ujah, assistant professor of corporate finance, SDSU, native of Nigeria; and Hilary Hungerford, associate professor of geography, Utah Valley University, Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, 2002-04, 15 years of work, study and travel in West Africa.

• “Current Regional Challenges and Successes in Africa,” 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Fathi Halweish, professor of chemistry, SDSU, native of Egypt; Collins Kwarisima, doctoral student in sociology and rural studies, SDSU, native of Uganda; Afiwa Marie-Dalila Missoh, undergraduate student in international relations and French, University of South Dakota, native of Togo; and Volker Brozel, head of biology and microbiology, SDSU, native of South Africa.

•“Americans’ Role in Africa; Challenging Assumptions,” 2-3:15 p.m. Molly Enz, associate professor of modern languages and global studies, SDSU, Fulbright Scholar in Senegal, 2016-17; Andrea Mayrose, residence hall director, SDSU, Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, 2011-13; Hungerford; and Brian Baskerville, USDA geographer, Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, 2009-11.

Student reception

Students interested in the Peace Corps or Fulbright program are invited to a reception in the Jackrabbit Room from 3:30-4:30 p.m.

The South Dakota World Affairs Council, based in Brookings, is one of almost 100 councils affiliated with the World Affairs Councils of America, which is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating the public about world affairs. For more information, call 688-5416 or email [email protected]

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