MAK, University of Torino workshop examines contemporary Africa

In 2004 the University of Torino established a Cooperation Agreement with Makerere University and this has been constantly renewed through the years. The cooperation promotes joint Prof. Pennacini (R) with one of the presenters Mistrettascientific and didactic activities in the field of Anthropology, Sociology and in the study and preservation of the cultural heritage of the Great Lakes region.

Last week, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Makerere University together with the Department of Culture, Politics and Society at the University of Torino, Italy held a workshop on the theme African on the Move: An Introduction to Contemporary Africa from the Social Sciences Perspective”.

The four-day workshop held at the University of Torino starting 3rd June 2019 offered an introduction to contemporary Africa from the perspective of Social Studies, mainly focusing on the Sub-Saharan regions. The workshop was supported by the Erasmus Partner Countries Programme run by the two universities. Participants included staff and graduate students from both institutions and professionals seeking a general, multi-disciplinary approach touching on some of the most relevant, updated topics in the field of African Studies. It was moderated by Prof. Cecilia Pennacini, Coordinator of the Erasmus Partner Countries Programme at the University of Torino and Dr Alessandro Gusman.

The workshop focused on different aspects of the present situation of sub-Saharan societies, looking at them from various disciplinary perspectives: history, anthropology, geography, political science, development studies, strategic and diplomatic approaches. 

Topics presented included, “The Present Future History, Africa and the Rest Us” by Alice Bellagamba, “Sub-Saharan Africa in International Organizations: A Diplomatic Vision” by Giuseppe Mistretta, "Africa for the Africans"? Processes and Institutions of African Regionalism” by Giovanni Finizio, African Christianity: The Case of Uganda Pentecostalism” by Alessandro Gusman, Islam in Africa: The Case of Muridism in Senegal” by Guido Nicolas Zingari, East African Borders from the Colonial Partition to the Present Disputes” by Dr Eria Olowo Onyango and Ms. Rita Nakanjako, Democracy in sub-Saharan Africa: Past failures, Future Challenges” by Dr George Okiror, Crisis and Conflicts in postcolonial Africa” by Dr Eria Olowo Onyango (C) delivers his presentationStefano Dragani, The Digital Revolution: Mobile Phones in Cameroon and Uganda” by Giovanna Santanera and Nicholas Mugabi, Development: An ambiguous Concept” by Dr Godfrey Asiimwe, and Political Ecology in Kenya: Environmental Histories and Counter-mapping” by Paola Minoia.

In their paper titled “East African Borders from the Colonial Partition to the present Disputes”, Dr Eria Olowo Onyango and Ms. Rita Nakanjako explained how the scramble for Africa by European powers and the subsequent partitioning of the Continent resulted into recurrent border conflicts. “European powers structured Africa’s population in ways that would make the most efficient workforce, ignoring Africa’s cultural groups or existing political leadership at the time of colonization. Sometimes they grouped together people who had never been united before. The creation of these borders had a negative impact on Africa’s political and social structures by either dividing groups that wanted to be together or combining ethnic groups that were enemies,” they noted. They also deeply analyzed the factors that have hindered the unification of the Continent specifically pointing to cultural diversity where Africa has over 2000 ethnic groups. Dr Olowo is the Coordinator of the Erasmus Partner Countries Programme at Makerere University and Ms. Rita Nakanjako is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Makerere University.

Dr George Okiror critically analyzed the concept of democracy and highlighted a number of challenges undermining its realization on the African Continent. According to his presentation, the challenges include power & primitive wealth creation/accumulation, lack of independence of political institutions, Parliamentary majorities that undermine the interests of the populace, rising repression and militarization of politics, political exclusion, corruption, rising inequality and a number of governance challenges (dismal state of press freedom, proliferation of restrictive laws to eliminate opposition, entrenched leaders and the abuse of term limits, weak regional human rights mechanisms and lack of economic competitiveness). He noted that until African political systems become less majoritarian and do a better job of protecting the Dr Giovanni Finizio presenting at the workshoprights and interests of minorities, the true benefits of democratic governance are unlikely to be realized. Dr Okiror is a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Makerere University.

In his presentation titled “Africa on the Move: Development as an Ambiguous Concept”, Dr Asiimwe B. Godfrey from Makerere University analyzed the different perceptions of development and how Africa has transformed since the pre-colonial times. He noted that what may be conceived as development or factors that lead to development in one region may not apply in another. He said development is perceived through different lenses and models highlighting the dominant perceptions as evolutionism, Modernisation/civilization, Classical/Neo-Liberalism (Free market capitalism), Growth and Marxist/Neo-Marxist: Communism/socialism (State Central Planning). Dr Asiimwe briefed participants on Africa’s realities of growth without development, pointing to several causes including growth driven more by Aid inflows, Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), laundering, corruption, construction, service sector & imports than production dynamics. He underscored the need to reconceptualize development basing on context specific realities.

Nicholas Mugabi and Giovanna Santanera assessed the Digital Revolution in African, specifically analyzing how the mobile phone infrastructure has evolved over the years and transformed lives in Cameroon and Uganda. They noted that the influx of mobile technologies has facilitated diffusion and learning, empowered rural and urban communities and created new forms of identities. They however argue that digital technology still faces and has caused a number of challenges. These include limited bandwidth, unreliable power supply, limited technical capacity and illiteracy, mobile technology abuse, high costs of maintenance and cultural lag.

Dr. Giovanni Finizio from the Department of Culture, Politics and Society at the University of Torino discussed the processes and institutions of African Regionalism. His paper critically assesses the various attempts at unifying African through different political, social and economic blocks as well as the benefits and the challenges experienced in realizing the intended objectives.

Dr Okiror discussed democracy in AfricaStefano Dragani delivered a presentation on the crisis and conflicts in postcolonial Africa specifically focusing on the most extremist militant groups; the Boko Haram, Al- Shabaab and AQIM, as well as the Arab Spring. Quoting from research by the African Development Bank that shows that there have been more than 200 coups in Africa since the post-independence era of the 1960s, with 45% of them being successful, Dragani pointed to Ethnic and religious hatred as well as deep political and economic development failures as the root causes of civil wars on the African Continent.

Dr Alessandro Gusman from the Department of Culture, Politics and Society at the University of Torino presented the factors leading to the growth of Pentecostalism on the African Continent, specifically focusing on Uganda. Quoting from “Atlas of Pentecostalism” (Pulitzer Center), Alessandro noted that almost 35,000 new believers join Pentecostal churches each day, and that of the world's two billion Christians, a quarter are now Pentecostal—up from 6 percent in 1980. According to his research, Pentecostals in Uganda have been steadily growing up to 11,1% in 2014 from 4,7% in 2002. He points out the need for restoration of morality and redemption as some of the overriding factors for the growth of Pentecostalism in Uganda.

Guido Nicolas Zingari’s presentation on Islam in Africa, specifically focusing on Muridism in Senegal attempted to relate history and ethnography in order to show how one of the many cases of Islam in Africa is deeply rooted in political, economic and cultural processes that intertwine and clash.

 Alice Bellagamba analyzed the present and future collaboration between Africa and other Continents whereas Paola Minoia discussed the political ecology in Kenya.

The workshop also featured a book presentation, L’Etat de distortion en Afrique de L’Ouest ed. by Jean-Francois Bayart, Ibrahima Poudiougou and Govanni Zanolette; and a film “The Gates of Heaven”  directed by Guido Nicolas Zingari.

Dr Asiimwe analyzed the concept of developmentAt the end of the workshop, participants held a round-table discussion to brainstorm on the way forward with the aim of strengthening the programme. They proposed to hold an extensive summer school on the future of Africa.

See presentations below

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