Emory Report

January 20, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 17

First Person:

Global education at Emory: A pan-African perspective

A decade ago, I was on the verge of completing a two-year appointment as a Ford Foundation program officer responsible for governance, human rights and international affairs in West Africa. I had by then become convinced that the many problems of Africa could not be resolved as long as most African countries continued to be governed by undemocratic and ineffectual regimes. I joined Emory later that same year, 1988, as a political science professor and director of a new Institute of African Studies and to establish the African Governance Program of The Carter Center. The center's dynamic programs in health, food production, democratic transitions and conflict resolution have since carried Emory's name into many towns and villages on the African continent.

As the Cold War ramparts came down after 1989, African countries experienced a whirlwind of political and economic reforms. However, along with the re-legalization of opposition parties and a return to competitive elections came an upsurge in armed conflict and several humanitarian crises. The policies adopted by foreign governments and international agencies in Africa during the early 1990s were informed by the vast body of research and writing conducted by academic researchers. As we prepare to meet the challenges of the new millenium, our universities and colleges must once again step forward and play a critical role in several areas.

I returned to campus last September after two years' leave to reflect and write about these tumultuous developments. I encountered anew an Emory that has the human and material resources, in the words of President Bill Chace, "to be what it wants to be." In defining this mission, attention should be devoted to the openings and opportunities Emory has already created. The major problems in the world today are simultaneously local and global. For example, my three main concerns about Africa-the building of coherent states, the bolstering of constitutionalism and the rule of law, and the strengthening of democratic institutions and practices-are also prominent issues in Asia, Eastern Europe and South America. Emory's "identity and signature," as Dean Steven Sanderson has termed it, can be quickly stamped on these areas of intellectual inquiry. Let me illustrate.

I had the opportunity to participate in the recent general elections in Jamaica, which were observed by a strong international team organized by The Carter Center. This mission proved instrumental in helping significantly reduce the level of political violence. In separate meetings with faculty members of the local branch of the University of the West Indies, it was striking how much of a role Emory could play in following up The Carter Center's initiative by undertaking collaborative and multidisciplinary research on the "garrison communities" responsible for much of the violence, sharing experiences from other transitional democracies regarding electoral and other political reforms, and simultaneously enriching many areas of Emory's campus life through faculty and student exchanges.

Emory's location in Atlanta has particular significance. Atlanta is regarded nationally and internationally as a center of African-American dynamism and as the fulcrum of the civil rights movement. Black America is itself becoming increasingly internationalized following decades of migration from the Anglophone and Hispanic Caribbean and, more recently, from Africa. Since the collapse of apartheid, the South African government has begun promoting an "African Renaissance" to counter the poverty and violence in which many black communities worldwide are trapped.

In short, international education at Emory does not have to reproduce the racial and cultural exclusivity that a mere generation ago characterized an Emory education. Moreover, by encouraging research, teaching and collaborative projects on African and Caribbean renewal within a global framework, Emory has the opportunity to provide leadership for other academic institutions in the United States and overseas.

Four decades ago, I witnessed my first elections as a child during the struggle for independence in the then-British colony of Trinidad and Tobago. As a college student, I took part in voter registration drives in racially segregated Alabama and Mississippi. As an Emory faculty member and Carter Center fellow, I have had the opportunity to direct election-observer missions in Zambia and Ghana that helped end single-party and military rule in those countries.

I now look forward to helping prepare our students for the challenge of strengthening institutions that can serve and protect communities, rather than oppress and exploit them, at home as well as abroad. I know of few universities as well-placed as Emory that can address, in a concerted manner, this global imperative.

Richard Joseph is Asa G. Candler Professor of Political Science.

Return to January 20, 1998 Contents Page