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Bard College Presents “Africa: Civil Society at the Edge,” a Panel with Leading African Studies Scholars on April 22

Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—On Wednesday, April 22, Bard College presents “Africa: Civil Society at the Edge, ” a panel chaired by Njabulo Ndebele with Binyavanga Wainaina, Youssef Yacoubi, John Ryle, and Augustine Hungwe. The panel will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Lázló Z. Bitó ’60 Auditorium, Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Center for Science and Computation at Bard College. Sponsored by the Chinua Achebe Institute, the Rift Valley Institute, and Africana Studies, this event is free and open to the public.

In an increasing number of African countries civil society is in crisis. Space for social activism has been reduced by ruthless elite politics and the daily struggle for survival. In Sudan, human rights organizations have been closed down, their assets confiscated. In Kenya, civil society has been powerless in the face of political corruption and ethnic conflict. In Zimbabwe, poverty and violence have driven hundreds of thousands into exile. Elsewhere, there are signs of hope: in Morocco, after an era of repression, a reforming monarch is initiating a process of social and political change. A panel of specialists will examine how the components of civil society in specific African countries are redefining themselves against current political and economic developments. Who are the key players? Churches? Mosques? Students? Trade unions? Indigenous leaders? Does the current backlash against the architects of the global financial system offer an opportunity to oppose predatory politics at the national level? And can this be used to build a durable home for the institutions of civil society?


Njabulo S. Ndebele, Senior Scholar in Residence at Bard College, was President of the University of Cape Town, following tenure as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Ford Foundation in New York. He is current President of the Association of African Universities. He is author of “Fools” and Other Stories (1983), which won the Noma Award in 1983; a novel The Cry of Winnie Mandela (2003); and a number of influential collections of essays including Rediscovery of the Ordinary (1991, 2006) and Fine Lines from the Box: further thoughts about our country (2007), which won the K. Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award. He is a graduate of the Universities of Lesotho, Cambridge, and Denver.

Augustine Hungwe
specializes in human rights and international law. He was a lecturer in the International Human Rights Exchange Programme at the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. He is the author of Good Governance and Democracy in Zimbabwe. He was a visiting professor in International Studies at Trinity College (2006) and has taught or presented academic papers on human rights issues at Emerson College, George Washington University, Haverford College, and Yale University. He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Studies at Bard College.

John Ryle is Legrand Ramsey Professor of Anthropology at Bard College and Chair of the Rift Valley Institute, a UK– and Kenya–based association of specialists working in Eastern Africa. He was a member of the International Eminent Persons Group that reported on abduction and slavery in Sudan and is coordinator, with Jok Madut Jok, of a database of persons abducted during the civil war in Southern Sudan. He is author of Warriors of the White Nile (1982) and numerous reports on human rights and aid and development and a contributor to periodicals including the New York Review of Books, Granta, and the Guardian.

Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan author, journalist and winner of the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing. He is the founding editor of Kwani?, the first literary magazine in East Africa since Transition Magazine. He has written for The East African, National Geographic, the Sunday Times (South Africa), Granta, the New York Times, and the Guardian (UK). He has taught at Union College and Williams College, and is currently the Director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Literature and Languages at Bard College.

Youssef Yacoubi earned his Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham. He has been an Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at Bard College since 2006. He taught at Hofstra and at Rutgers in the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies. Between 2002 and 2004 he was a lecturer at Princeton University in the department of Near Eastern Studies. He has published articles on Salman Rushdie, Edward Said, Taha Hussein, cultural theory, and modern Islamic thought. He is currently finishing a book, based on his Ph.D. thesis, dealing with the religious thought and culture in the writings of Salman Rushdie.

For more information on the Rift Valley Institute, visit


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This event was last updated on 04-17-2009