CSUB Prof in the Heart of Conflict: Malawi, Africa
By: Elizabeth K. Jackson, Ph.D.
Topics: conflict resolution
, Peace Studies
Posted by Peaceful1
Sat Mar 19, 2011 09:27:09 PDT
Last Monday was as a war zone.
From my living room I could hear the sound of ammunition, soldiers—or was it the police?—no one was certain because local citizens had their shops locked and were afraid to come out of their homes.
Someone offered: “The Military are training to be deployed to The Ivory Coast to aid in the conflict there.” Perhaps they felt it better to train in the streets, similar to what they might face on the ground.
But I had another feeling: I was worried for many of my students whom I had come to know well and with whom I had a deep connection.
The students in the university to which I serve as a visiting professor, Chancellor College in Malawi, Africa, were poised for what they deemed a peaceful march in support of their striking lecturers. Their instructors had walked out a week earlier to protest the interrogation by the Inspector General (IG) of Police of one of their colleagues, associate professor Blessings Chinsinga.
Chinsinga had used an example in his class lecture that likened Malawi’s on-going fuel crisis with the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia that led to the ultimate overthrow of the governments in both countries.
Lectures at Chancellor, the largest of the five constituent colleges of the University of Malawi, took umbrage with the questioning, deemed it a breach of academic freedom, and quit the classrooms.
Students who demonstrated on behalf of the lecturers Tuesday were met with warning bullets and teargas; eleven were arrested, one charged with treason.
Earlier, I had scheduled workshops under the topic “Mediation/Negotiation as Tools for Conflict Resolution” in conjunction with the student-based Peace and Conflict Management Society, for which I am the faculty advisor.
Some assumed it would be a disaster: who would show up amid patrolling police, strikes and chaos?
Nonetheless, every seat in the house was taken. On a campus that was otherwise closed down, persons filled the body of the Great Hall over the two day training session, eager to learn all they could about how to quell hostilities and move forward sans violence.
Three years ago, as a full professor in the Department of Communications at California State University Bakersfield, I made a decision to go back to school for a fifth academic credential, completing post graduate work at the University of Bologna, Rimini, Italy, and California State University Dominguez Hills in Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding (NCRP). My emphasis was on international conflict resolution.
With prospects of an upcoming sabbatical, I applied as a visiting volunteer to the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help (IFESH), an agency that places educators in developing countries in Africa to bolster the academic infrastructure. In Malawi, only about one percent of the 14 million people are enrolled in college.
Malawi’s national slogan is “The Warm Heart of Africa,” yet in immediate proximity to my arrival, I found myself embraced by the cacophony of conflict and confusion.
Professor A. Marco Turk, one of my mentors in international conflict resolution, said in an email to me: “ironic that immediately after receiving your credentials, you are plopped smack in the middle of conflict.”
Perhaps, yet this is the very reason I embraced the field with such urgency. I’ve seldom been a place in my life where conflict has not made its unwelcomed appearance.
When I lived in Ethiopia from 1996-1998, the country broke out in an unexpected war with Eritrea over a border conflict.
When I lived in Zimbabwe from 2003-2004, students came to me bludgeoned, bruised and bleeding from butting heads with the oppositional regime.
Now Malawi, where my colleagues walk about with red gags over their mouths symbolizing thwarted freedom of speech, and my students find themselves subject to remand prison for treason.
Yet I hold the light, and continue my work here in Malawi inspired by the student-generated slogan of the Peace and Conflict Management Society: “A civilized society is a peaceful society.” ###
Elizabeth K. Jackson, Ph.D. is a professor of Communications at California State University Bakersifeld on leave and posted in Malawi, Africa.