Thursday, December 4, 2014

News from Nairobi

By James Chege
Maryknoll Institute of African Studies

Public Lectures Held at MIASMU

The sixth week of the semester program was buzzing with activities as two public lectures were held.

Students taking notes during Professor Aseka’s lecture.
Political and Economic Realities: Professor Eric Aseka, a MIASMU lecturer, who is currently the vice chancellor at the African Leadership University and was formerly the chairperson of the History Department and dean of the School of the Humanities at Kenyatta Un., delivered a public lecture on “The Contemporary Political and Economic Realities of Kenya.” He spoke at length about the colonial legacy and how many of Kenya’s current political and economic challenges can be traced back to the nation’s colonial roots. These problems include geographical and structural disarticulation, land issues, ethnicity and distorted class structure. He also dedicated some time to speak about what is known as the ‘politics of the belly’ and the role of corruption in underdevelopment. These areas generated a lively exchange in a question-and-answer session held at the end of the lecture.
Professor Klein stresses a point during his lecture.
Slavery in East and West Africa: The second public lecture was on “Slavery: East and West Africa” and was delivered by Professor Emeritus Martin Klein from the University of Toronto. Before retirement, Professor Klein had taught African history for 29 years at the University of Toronto and had lectured at Berkeley, Wellesley College, Carleton College, Stanford, Lovanium University in Kinshasa, and the University of Rhode Island.

The lecture covered the origin of slavery in Africa and touched on forms of indigenous slavery in West Africa as well as in East Africa. Very few of the participants were aware of the extent of slavery on the North coast of Kenya centering on a settlement called Witu. He highlighted fundamental differences such as the  West African slaves’ rights to make money through trading unlike their East African counterparts who did not enjoy such privileges. Professor Klein spoke of the role of Islam in slavery and how it was used as justification to enslave “pagans” by some of the more prominent Islamic slave traders. Other justifications used were racism and gender. At the end of the lecture some thought provoking discussions ensued with particular reference to contemporary forms of slavery in the Middle East.