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MIT to host conference on African renewal

Twelve African scholars and policy-makers will join experts from Europe and the United States at MIT's first international Conference on African Renewal this weekend.

The conference, running from Thursday, March 6 to Sunday, March 9, was organized by Richard Joseph, a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science. It will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the independence of Ghana, declared on March 6, 1957. The keynote speaker at the welcoming dinner on Thursday will be Dr. K. Afari Gyan, chairman of the Electoral Commission of Ghana.

Associate provost Phillip L. Clay and Dean Philip S. Khoury of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences also will take part in the conference.

On Saturday morning, March 8, representatives of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the National Democratic Institute will discuss the efforts that helped Ghana conduct successful elections in 1996, four years after disputed elections were held. Later in the day, Mr. Afari Gyan will participate in a public forum entitled "Ghana: A Model for African Renewal" at the Tang Center's Wong Auditorium (Building E51).

"Ghana is a good example of a country that went from a military system to a constitutional democracy," said Dr. Joseph, who will chair the forum. "It now has a state-of-the-art constitutional electoral system."

The forum on Ghana will be followed by a roundtable discussion of the crisis in Zaire and Rwanda, also at the Wong Auditorium and open to the public. Ambassador Herman Cohen of the Global Coalition for Africa, the former US assistant secretary of state for East Africa, will take part in this roundtable, chaired by Margaret Vogt of the International Peace Academy.

At least 25 papers on the themes of state, conflict and democracy will be presented at the conference. Participants include scholars from MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, Barnard, UCLA, the University of Wisconsin, Tufts, Vassar, Georgetown, the University of Uppsala in Sweden, the Africa Institute, the Michelsen Institute in Norway, the United States Institute of Peace and other prestigious organizations. "We have experts on every region in Africa," said Dr. Joseph. "We'll brainstorm on many important contemporary issues."

Dr. Joseph, a professor at Emory University's Carter Center in Atlanta, organized similar conferences at that institution in 1989, 1990 and 1994. He believes holding this meeting at MIT has special significance.

"It is important for the major research universities to take Africa seriously," Dr. Joseph said. "I'm disappointed at the lack of leadership in Washington on African affairs. That places the onus on the academic community to generate better analyses and innovative thinking. The scholars attending this conference can take up this challenge."

Dr. Joseph has made it possible for MIT students to take part in the conference. Several student groups are involved, including the Hunger Action Group, the African Students Association and the Caribbean Club. "There will be opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to interact with these scholars," he said.

Besides MIT, sponsors of the conference include the development agencies of Denmark and the Netherlands, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Individual sessions are being co-sponsored by the Global Coalition for Africa and the IFES.

For additional information, contact Natoschia Scruggs at <> or x3-3524.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 5, 1997.

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