[Image: Lion of Judah Monument in Addis Ababa]
Dr. David Harris is a Lecturer in African Studies at the University of Bradford. In addition to leading the Africa Study Visit programme, he has also recent published Sierra Leone: A Political History
The latest in a long line of Africa Study Visits (ASV) took us this year to a new destination for the ASV: Ethiopia. Somewhere between 10 and 20 MA students have undertaken the ASV to countries such as Sierra Leone (2008 and 2014), Liberia (2013) and Rwanda (2011 and 2012). This year a party of 14 – myself as Academic Leader, Sarah Njeri, the Coordinator, and 12 students – flew out to Addis Ababa in February. And we came back much more the wiser two weeks later.
The ASV goes every year to an African post-conflict country and the choice of the country is decided bearing in mind language and security priorities. The main objective of the ASV is to allow students to broaden and deepen their understanding and practical experience of the complexities involved in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction in Africa. A themed schedule is put together where students meet and interview government ministers, security officials, society leaders, domestic and international civil society activists and staff, academics and, very importantly, other students. Our mantra is that it has been a particularly successful visit if everyone comes home with more questions than when they left.
[Image: The ASV group with the Federal Minister for Education His Excellency Ato Shiferaw Shigutie]
In Ethiopia, we stayed most of the time in Addis and met with, amongst many others, the Minister of Education, the police, the African Union which is headquartered in Addis, opposition politicians, local NGOs, Western donors, and postgraduate students from the University of Addis Ababa. At the weekend, we went down into the Rift Valley to Hawassa, where we met with the Regional Administration and spent some earned leisure time at three different lakes, including Lake Abijata with its thousands of pink flamingos. We were accompanied almost all of the time by two postgraduate students who were a mine of information for us and who became very much part of the team.
Amongst all this activity, it is of great concern that there is a daily forum for just ourselves to discuss findings, experiences, concerns and thoughts of the day and to relate these to theoretical frameworks and comparisons elsewhere. This forum has previously been named after local fora for discussion – for instance, the Palaver Hut in Liberia – and in Ethiopia, we duly inaugurated the Adbar. For at least an hour every day, this became our open discussion time before we went for a shared dish of injera (the Ethiopian staple) and sauces accompanied by tej (Ethiopian honey wine), a Sudanese feast, or a bowl of pasta.
It is not always easy to get along all the time, particularly when faced with what are often new experiences and what are always new and difficult intellectual challenges. This group, made up of nine nationalities, and twelve women and two men, emerged unscathed – despite being delayed by snow and losing our luggage in Istanbul on the way home – and we even managed to have two nights of communal cooking, one of which was prepared by the two males in the part….
Indeed, my thanks go to everyone for an enjoyable ASV.