Achebe Africa Colloquium

December 3-4, 2010

The 2010 Brown University Achebe African Colloquium focuses attention on three important African nations: RWANDA, CONGO and NIGERIA and the crucial issues that are impacting these nations, the continent and the world.

Keynote Speakers: Margot Elisabeth Wallström, Ambassador Stephen Rapp; His Excellency Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi ( Governor of Rivers State).

Special Guests of Honor: Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Chief Edwin Clark and H.R.H Professor Chukwuemeka Ike.


“When I came out, there were no birds,” said one survivor who had hidden throughout the genocide. “There was sunshine and the stench of death.”[xviii]

Fifteen years ago, ‘as the world slept,’ an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in a horrifyingly short span of 100 days. Early, simplistic analysis of the tragedy blamed the genocide on ancient animosities between the Tutsis and Hutus. In his landmark book published in 1998, called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch explores the Rwandan tragedy in depth. As David Garrow of the Washington Monthly has remarked, “Gourevitch debunks the notion that the genocide was the inevitable result of "ancient" tribal enmities. The hatred was of a more recent vintage…The Belgians granted Tutsis superior status and relegated the Hutus to virtual serfdom. Then, in 1959, the colonizers abruptly switched allegiances, backing the Hutus in an uprising that toppled the Tutsi overlords — and led to 35 years of increasingly brutal majority rule.”[xix] It has also been argued that the United Nations, The United States, the French and others responded in ways that neglected and expanded the crisis itself.

Today, this South-Central African nation is still struggling to come to terms with and to heal the psychological, emotional, social, economic and political wounds left behind by the genocide and its subsequent humanitarian upheaval.

Rwanda has made important economic and social progress in the years since the Genocide. Sadly, more than a decade after the horror of Rwanda, the country continues to struggle with democratic liberties and a shaky democratic infrastructure.

The two Rwanda focused panels at this year’s Achebe Colloquium will ask us if this genocide could happen again and what role a strengthened democracy might play in preventing future catastrophic violence and stabilizing self-governance. Some of the distinguished, expert speakers on these issues will include: Genocide survivor and scholar Noel Twagiramungu, Human Rights activist Aloys Habimana, author Philip Gourevitch, humanitarian Josh Ruxin, as well as world renown Professors Mahmood Mamdani, Ali Mazrui, Timothy Longman, Dr. J. Paul Martin, Scott Newton, Peter Uvin, Vern Neufeld Redekop and Susan Thomson.


At the dawn of the 20th century the former nation of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) witnessed the end of the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s 32-years of tyrannical rule. From Zaire’s ruins emerged Laurent Désiré Kabila. Kabila’s ascent to power was punctuated and labored down by a drawn out power struggle, insurrections, and by the assault of organized underground resistance groupsxx. Within a short period, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was thrust into the throes of what has become “the largest war in African’s modern history.” Dubbed as “Africa’s World War,” it involved eight countries and more than twenty-five armed groups. More than 4.5 million casualties have been reported– mainly from starvation and diseases – with millions displaced and thousands of women raped.

Even though that war formally ended in 2003, peace has not been achieved and the country is still today trying to recover from this conflict. It has destabilized the entire region of Central Africa and of the Great Lakes. This lingering conflict has had an extensive impact on the international community, with the UN running in the country its largest peacekeeping mission ever. It is therefore fitting that the Achebe Colloquium examine the crisis in this vast country four times the size of France with enormous economic resources and located strategically at the “heart” of the continent.

The Achebe Colloquium will focus three panels on the economic stakes behind the Congo’s “African World War,” and the value of a regional approach to a peaceful resolution of this crisis and the impact of this crisis on the Congolese people as well as their resilient creative responses. Our distinguished guests for the Congo panels include: world renown Great Lakes historian and political scientist Professor Ali Mazuri, the Kenyan writer Micere Mugo, noted Belgian journalist Marie-France Cros, scholars Chiwengo Ngwarsungu, Marie Louise Mumbe, Jose Kadabo, Pius Ngandu Nkashama, and Emmanuel Dongala, conflict prevention and peace activist Tatiana Carayannis as well as former Democratic Republic of Congo presidential candidates Alafuele M. Kalala and Dr Oscar Kashala amongst others.


With 150 million inhabitants, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation. Its ethnically and linguistically diverse people continue to face severe economic, political and environmental challenges whose impact and reverberations could be global in scope. One of the persistent obstacles to Nigeria’s emergence as a competent regional power has been the bane of corruption. Indeed this has been a particular pathology throughout the African continent (with exceptions, of course). The Looting of hundreds of billions of dollars with reckless abandon by the political elite in many African nations continues to serve as an important barrier to their development. According to the Global Financial Integrity, over the past 40 years over 854 billion dollars have been illegally transferred out of African nations with Nigeria’s estimated loss of over 240 billion topping the list. The recovery of looted funds is a vital facet of stabilizing the economy, reducing poverty and suffering and supporting other social needs and institutions.

The role of free elections continues to be crucial for Nigeria’s political future. With the possible exception of the June 12, 1993 elections that were sadly annulled by a military dictatorship, Nigeria’s electoral history has been marked by widespread rigging, contentiousness and the absence of credibility and integrity. All too often, the ruling party commandeers the police and other instruments of state to thwart Nigerians’ aspirations to exercise their democratic rights as voters.

The environment is the third area of focus for this year’s panels on Nigeria. The Niger River Delta is an environmental disaster zone. Between 1986 and1996, 2.5 million barrels-equal to 10 Exxon Valdez disasters- has been spilled in this region. The burning of 8 million cubic feet of natural gas everyday compounds the environmental catastrophe. The unfair distribution of the country’s annual oil revenues among the Nigerian population and seething resentment towards the Oil Multinationals, for their role in the devastation of the environment exacerbate the on-going environmental crisis.

Thus this year’s Colloquium panels on Nigeria will focus on the Recovering of Looted Funds, Elections and Political Transparency and the Niger Delta Crisis. Among many distinguished speakers the following will present their comments: INEC Chairman Professor Attahiru Jega, Former EFCC boss Nuhu Ribadu, noted human rights lawyers Femi Falana and Ayo Obe, Ambassadors John Campbell and Walter Carrington, Chief Emeka Izeze, Professors Richard Joseph, Darren Kew, MJC Echeruo, and Peter Lewis as well as River Niger Delta activists and environmentalists Dr. Judith Burdin Asuni and Annkio Briggs. In addition, special addresses will be presented by His Excellency Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Special Guests of Honor will include Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Chief Edwin Clark and H.R.H Professor Chukwuemeka Ike.

xx Achebe, Chinua. From Forthcoming Book Due 2011.