Pomona Launches Africa Initiative

Pomona College is striving to increase the college's academic focus on Africa by bringing together students who are interested in studying the culture, politics, and economy of Africa and inviting guest speakers and visiting scholars who specialize in Africa studies to campus. 

“There’s a big effort at Pomona to deepen the international dimension of the curricula,” said international programs coordinator and politics professor Pierre Englebert, who is spearheading the college's Africa Initiative. “Historically we’ve had focus on Asia and Latin America, but we didn’t have much on Africa at all, so then I suggested to the president and the dean that maybe we want to start something."

Diana Duri PO '15, an international student from Ethiopia, is one of the students helping Englebert plan the initiative.

"I’ve learned a lot from classes I’ve taken on politics in Africa, but there’s still a lot left to go in terms of exposure to African issues, which is definitely lacking on campus, so hopefully this will change that," Duri said.

As part of the Africa Initiative, Englebert plans to host a visiting Africa scholar on campus, where they will teach a class, work on their research, and be available as a resource for students. He said that he is searching for visiting scholars through the network of colleagues and contacts he has developed over 30 years of working in Africa. He said he is looking for people who can teach a class more specific than his course in African politics, perhaps focusing on topics such as human rights, women’s issues, democratization, or religion.

“I’m looking for somebody who can bring a different perspective, somebody who can give us not just an additional class but a class from an angle that we don’t have here,” Englebert said.

Samba Ka, a scholar of international political economy from Senegal, was scheduled to give a class this coming semester that would compare economic and political reform in Senegal, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria. However, Englebert said, Ka canceled his plans Nov. 13 after the president of Senegal asked Ka to chair a presidential commission on vocational education reform. 

With class registration now underway, Englebert said that he hopes to find a replacement in a week or two. 

“There are some irons in the fire, but at this point no final candidate," he said. "Worst comes to worst, we can’t get somebody. I guess we would postpone things. I hope not, because I’d like to make it work."

“It’s unfortunate that [Ka] can’t come any more, but I still think that we are going to work together to put together different events, whether it’s screenings or inviting more speakers to come this semester,” said Jennifer Okonkwo PO '16, another student involved with the initiative. 

The first speaker of this year's "Voices on Africa" series, Jessica Piombo from the Naval Postgraduate School, gave a talk Oct. 30 called “Non-Traditional Security Challenges in Africa." Piombo is a defense specialist who spoke on terrorism and the food crisis in Africa through a political lens, according to Englebert.

Forty-five people attended the talk in Carnegie 109.

“The room was packed, actually," Okonkwo said. "People had to pull up chairs next to the door in order to sit down."

“I am very happy about the turnout,” Englebert said.

The next speaker slated to come is Adam Nossiter, the west and central Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, who will give a talk Dec. 9 called "Covering Africa for The New York Times: Journalism From the Bottom Up." 

As another part of the initiative, students will have the opportunity to work with Englebert on research over the summer, Englebert said, adding that he hopes in a few years to offer students the chance to do fieldwork with him. 

Englebert said that student involvement is a crucial part of the initiative. A group of approximately 10 students meets with him once per month to discuss topics for future guest lectures, as well as other logistics.

“As someone who’s Nigerian, I’m really interested in the region myself," Okonkwo said. "I plan on doing work there, but the Africana Studies major is not something that I feel would fulfill my wants, so having this here sort of fills that void.” 

“Pomona strives to be diverse, and I feel like this is just another opportunity for us to educate ourselves about the world around us," she added.

“There are more things happening in Africa that are really important to us today," Duri said. "They’re developing very, very quickly, and I think it’s important to be educated in that field."