From the Director

From UCLA African Studies Center Director - Allen F. Roberts

...and for me, one of the greatest privileges and joys of serving as director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center over the last six years has been the chance to wear so many hats."

Aside from the rich complexity of African lives that we all find so inspiring, the aspect of African Studies that I have always found most exciting is its multi-disciplinarity. Because of the concentration on substance that is the hallmark of all area studies programs, we have an unusual opportunity to learn and share each other’s methods and theories; and for me, one of the greatest privileges and joys of serving as director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center over the last six years has been the chance to “wear so many hats.” Just this past week, for example, a very distinguished public health official from Ghana visited the center, accompanied by our colleague Al Neumann, the UCLA Emeritus Professor of Public Health who helped found a School of Public Health in Ghana. So did two Ivorian ethnomusicologists on a State Department tour, and I had extended conversations with colleagues at Tennessee State University concerning small business development in Tunisia. To cap off the week, USC History Professor Ramzi Ruighi offered a talk on ancient Berber society in his native Algeria to a large and rapt audience of campus and community constituents. A pretty ordinary five working days, that is, as things go at the center. 

Another great pleasure is working with dynamic UCLA student activists. On April 20th, Diana Essex and the FORGE campus group she directs sponsored Baridi Night. _Baridi_ means “cold” in Swahili, and the long evening event brought attention to the basic needs of Zambian refugees—that is, beginning with blankets and warm clothing. Live music, Ethiopian cuisine, and a raffle made the evening celebratory without losing sight of inspiring purposes. We can all be proud of such efforts (with our Darfur Action Committee in mind as well), led by the next generation of ardent Africanists.

Lots is going on for the rest of Spring quarter. We began the term with an interesting and affecting presentation by two poets from the Saharaoui Democratic Arab Republic—a nation still riven by strife, occupation, and exile. In May we shall be honored by the visit of Njabulo Ndebele and Thandabantu Nhlapo, respectively Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. They will offer a presentation on “A New Day for Higher Education in South Africa.” Also in May, Steven Lewis, former United Nations Special Envoy, will offer a keynote address on “Global Dimensions of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic” at a workshop that center assistant director Azeb Tadesse has initiated. The same event will feature a roundtable with Debrework Zewdie, Director of the Global HIV/AIDS Program at the World Bank; Keith Hansen, Senior Manager of the Health, Nutrition, and Population Program for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank; Evelyn Gonzales-Figueroa, Manager of Program Development/Latin America for the AIDS Project of Los Angeles; Adriana Baban, Professor at the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and in UCLA’s Center for European and Eurasian Studies; and Paula Tavrow, Director of the Bixby Program within the UCLA School of Public Health.

Another compelling event to be held in May will be an African Immigrant Community Coalition-Building Forum that the center is co-sponsoring (again through the good work of Azeb Tadesse and Sheila Breeding) with the UCLA African Activist Association, composed of dynamic student get-goers, the African Federation, and USA for Africa as led by our wonderful colleague Marcia Thomas. A first session on the 18th will be held at the Lucy Florence Coffeehouse, to bring the conversation to community constituencies, and then a second at UCLA on Saturday the 19th. And then on the 25th and 26th, the African Activist Association will hold a conference of students, faculty, and community members to consider “Multi-Mediating Africa: Emerging Artistic and Technological Re/presentations.”

Enough to make one’s head spin! But that is what the African Studies Center has long been, is, and will always be about: learning as much about as many aspects of African and African diaspora life as we possibly can. Such initiative takes most tangible form in our teaching programs, and especially the MA and undergraduate major in African Studies that Professor Andrew Apter has led so ably for the past four years. Andy will be moving on to other triumphs as of the end of this academic year, and I’m sure you will join me in thanking him for his brilliant service and wish him well in his future projects. I too shall be moving on to next opportunities at the end of June. It has been a distinct honor to serve as director for the past six years, and I thank you for the support you have shown the center’s many activities and programs. I know you will renew your solidarity with the incoming leadership as well as our wonderful center staff, as we all look forward to more exciting Africa-focused activities at UCLA.

Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2007