By abandoning their villages, Africa’s educated men and women have caused unemployment in urban areas and low food production and "entrenched poverty" in rural areas, according to the Republic of Uganda’s First Lady, Janet Museveni.

Museveni delivered the keynote address for the first All-Africa Regional Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya on August 6-8. Sponsored by the Bryn Mawr Club of Kenya, the conference focused on women and development, and was the fifth organized by the Office for International Initiatives under the leadership of retired director of admissions Elizabeth G. Vermey ’58.

Conference guests and participants. The conference was held at the Windsor Golf and Country Club, of which John Michuki, father of Wanja Michuki ’96, is Chairman.

Speaking of East Africa in general, but using Uganda as her example, Museveni argued that the entire educational system must be rethought and restructured so that talented young people choose to stay in their home situations or return to improve them, rather than escape or stay elsewhere.

She explained that in spite of remarkable growth at the macro-economic level, Uganda is still among the poorest countries in the world, with a majority of its people living in rural areas. "Less than half of our people, particularly women, can read and write," she said. Rural woman who, produce about 80 percent of its food, "must be empowered to make Africa the bread basket of the world.... to bring up healthy children and create a strong economy ... to create jobs for the many misdirected youth who are roaming our cities."

Two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that Museveni has founded train rural women in better farming methods, simple book keeping, health issues and leadership skills. They also receive improved seeds, fertilizers, ox-ploughs and oxen, animals and sometimes even small loans.

"My vision for the educated African woman is that she will take her university qualifications to the village and make an investment in the people," Museveni said.

Martin Aliker, father of Jules Aliker ’84, a member of Parliament and Former Minister for Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, also criticized the policies and quality of East African educational systems. South of the Sahara, especially in Kenya and Uganda, the well-to-do send their children to schools in the United Kingdom or United States, he said. Most university students in Uganda must pay full fees, and there are not enough jobs for graduates. Aliker told Bryn Mawr alumnae: "All I have said means that your college will continue to receive applications from candidates who are bright and from well-to-do families in East Africa. If they are bright but poor they will be asking for scholarships. All the same, you will always get the best students from East Africa."

In her welcoming remarks, President of the Bryn Mawr Club of Kenya, Wairimu Ndirangu, M.S.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’93, named 10 of the parents who have been active in the Club since it was initiated three years ago. "Unlike other Bryn Mawr clubs in the world, we have a strong family presence and support," she said. "This is a tradition that we would like to uphold in rhythm with our African family networking systems."

More than 75 attendees came from a variety of countries around the continent; they included alumnae/i, current students, parents, and three Bryn Mawr faculty members.

The anchor of the conference was a day-long symposium focusing on economic development strategies, particularly the role African women can play and how this is affected by social and health issues.

Development and choices
Moses Musonda, Ph.D. ’83 (French), ambassador from the Republic of Zambia to the United Kingdom and formerly to the People’s Republic of China, gave an historical overview of the sources of ideas about development in post-independence Africa.

"Before World War II, Africa had been a colonized continent with the exception of Ethiopia, Liberia and South Africa," Musonda said. "With the coming of freedom, a desire for political unity lead to the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. Many states believed that a one-party system and nationalization of industry would accelerate development. In some cases, however, nationalization pushed countries backwards. As the world moved into a more global economy at the end of the Cold War, African politicians questioned these policies, amending their constitutions to provide for multi-party political systems and beginning privatization."

Diana Putman ’78, M.A. ’81, Ph.D. ’84, a project development officer in the U.S. Agency for International Devel-opment (USAID), took her degrees in anthropology from Bryn Mawr before returning to Africa, where she had grown up with her family. Putman said that "Being in Africa much of my life and being an anthropologist has made me think about development as expanding choices: how to be governed, how to make a living, when to have children, and how large a family to have. Choices about whether to participate in traditional rituals, such as female genital cutting or who and when to marry, being able to express dissent without fear of persecution, practice one’s religious beliefs freely and so on. Expanding choices means access to information so that people can weigh the alternatives, something which has not always existed in traditional societies. ... Choice also means what types of organizations help with the development process. Today, the development process can be done and facilitated not just through government, through multilateral or bilateral agencies such as USAID, but also a range of civil society organizations and NGOs as well as the private sector.

"Westerners tend to think of development as a unilateral process, constantly moving forward, but as recent history on this continent has shown, development proceeds in fits and spurts and may even involve going backward. The Masai acknowledge this in one of their proverbs: ‘Zig zag is the way to success. A straight line leads to failure.’ In the early 1990s, USAID began to recognize that straight-line development was not occurring in Africa, especially in the Horn and surrounding countries. Once-peaceful nations were mired either in internal conflict or with each other, and previously food-secure countries needed massive amounts of food aid. The response was the Greater Horn of Africa Initiative (GHIA), which aimed to understand the root causes of and linkages between food security and conflict and find solutions to them. Importantly, local and regional institutional development has been viewed as the key to solving these problems. The five operating principles for the GHAI reflect lessons USAID has learned over the last 40 years on how to do development successfully: African or local ownership, strategic coordination, regional perspective, promoting stability, linking humanitarian relief and long-term development. Yet applying them turns out to be difficult because it implies a radical mind shift, both for us and for our partners. We have to remember that it’s hard for the donor agencies to change how they operate, but it’s equally hard for the countries that are used to listening to the donors to stand up and assert themselves and say, ‘No, this is what we want. ’ "

Another member of the panel on development strategies, Yvonne Manu Tsikata ’86 of the World Bank, is on consignment as a research fellow with another organization based in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

"TheWorld Bank, which is part of the UN system, has been involved with development for more than 50 years. ... Its approach has evolved considerably over these years, particularly in the past decade," Tsikata said. "Partnerships with foundations, with other UN agencies, with NGOs are greater than at any other time. Trickle Up is an example of a program that the Bank can’t and perhaps shouldn’t be doing but that it can complement and support." But Associate Professor of Sociology Mary Osirim, cautioned that "Based on my work with NGOS, I would agree that civil society and the participatory process have increased and are moving in very interesting kinds of ways, I’d just like to point out that participation is very very limited, particularly by the demands of donors. Trickle Up is a very rare case. What is much more common is the giving of loans to women with already established businesses with very high interest rates attached as opposed to providing start-up capital. I understand very well why we have to do this, but I think we also have to rethink, "who is left out of the process?"

Osirim, who researches women entrepreneurs in Nigeria and Zimbabwe, observed that "the social cost of economic adjustment has been incredibly high and put critical institutions in crisis, resulting particularly in the removal of girl children from primary and secondary schools. What I’ve also noticed that’s very disturbing is the displacement of young men from the formal labor markets, whether or not they have been able to complete their schooling. They are increasingly becoming the vendors on the streets.

The logic of ‘neither-both’
Alumnae who were the first from their respective countries in Africa to attend Bryn Mawr recalled their experiences. Hasna Lebaddy ’73 said that when she came to the United States from Morocco, she was surprised to find herself identified as a Middle Easterner rather than an African, and then as an American when she returned to Morocco. "Feeling neither purely African, typically Arab nor American, I don’t conform to the logic of either/or but more to neither/both, which allows me to find a space that is compatible with the language of migrations and mergings, of overlappings and transgressions, of hybridity, postmodernity and postcolonialism," she said.

Lecturer in English and cultural studies at Mohamed V. University in Rabat, Morocco, Lebaddy participated in a panel on African women’s issues later in the symposium, arguing that the logic of "neither-both" offers a way for Africans, women in particular, to formulate an authentic sense of identity, which is fundamental for any kind of economic development to take place.

"In the minds of both Westerners and many Africans, what is purely African is still conceived of as what excludes Western and other cultural influences," she said. "New definitions of authenticity must be formulated which are not dependent on a salvaged past.

"It can be argued that women’s values and perspectives are to a large extent conditioned by the values of their societies, which consider, for example, ownership of a business to be a male prerogative." Women writers can play a crucial role here in transforming society so that women’s values and perspectives have a central place in determining the kind of world we live in. The narratives that a culture produce, among other things, reinforce social values. "Among the kinds of narratives that have prevailed in African cultures is storytelling, with which women have always been concerned. Within this tradition, however, stories often told by women belong to society at large and not necessarily to the women who tell them. It is only within the written tradition that stories and ideas, in general, become personal properties and therefore capital assets. This latter stage of course, involves the capacity to write, and literacy is another capital asset which has to a large extent been denied women. What is even more to the point here is that the stories told have not always been particularly favorable to women, even when women have been especially involved in their telling."

Tembeka Mpako-Ntsui, Ph.D. (sw) ’96 lecturer at the University of Transkei in South Africa, sketched a history of efforts for women’s rights, noting that "it now has become the responsibility of both men and women to raise the consciousness of both men and women about of the responsibilities of women and that women have a role to play." She reported, however, that religion, especially Christianity, is a great drawback for South African women who are trying to be good people, to do what is right. The Bible is used to support the argument that women should submit to their husbands, that they can not preach and should be taught about God and religion by husbands and fathers… It is only now that some women can say, ‘This is what the Bible says, and this was meant for the women of Corinth in A.D. whatever, but not for the women of South Africa in this era.’ "

Michael Allen, Associate Professor of Political Science, who accompanied Bryn Mawr’s Peace Mission to South Africa along with Osirim, commented that domestic violence against women is a prominent concern right now in South Africa and a priority of the Commission on Gender Equality to make men aware of their responsibilities in that regard. Allen pointed out that there are also powerful sections of the Bible that can support women’s agendas. "This raises again the question of who controls the text and interpretation."

The third panelist, Aida Gindy, M.A. ’48, journeyed to Bryn Mawr from Egypt shortly after the close of World War II. Her advisor and professor was Dr. Herta Kraus, who had fled the Nazi regime in Germany. Bryn Mawr and Kraus proved to be the bridge to Gindy’s distinguished 32-year career in the United Nations and UNICEF. She was one of the first UN trainees and worked in the field of socio-economic development.

Gindy’s own mother was part of the women’s emancipation in Egypt during the early 1900s. "I grew up as a young child listening to all these discussions with my ear while outside the living room." In summarizing the women’s situation in Egypt today, Gindy noted that "We do not have a single woman judge. Many excuses are used, including religion … but Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan all have women judges." Some progress has been made at the legislative level, but the largest jump is at the executive level, where there have been several women cabinet ministers and each have one or two women deputies who are permanent civil servants.

The two speakers during a panel on health issues focused on HIV-AIDS and women. Wairimu Ndirangu, M.S.S. ’85, Ph.D. ’93, an HIV-AIDS researcher and local director of the St. Lawrence Unversity Program in Kenya, reported that more than four-fifths of infected women in sub-Saharan Africa get the virus from a male sex partner, and many married women have been infected by their husbands. Simply being married is a major risk factor for women who have little control over abstinence or condom use at home or their husbands’ activity outside the home.

Annabel Erulkar ’88. a public health researcher with the Population Council in Nairobi, criticized the direction of research on adolescent sexual and reproductive behavior, which is only two decades old in the region. Data suggest that most HIV infection takes place during the adolescent years, from 10-24. and young women in their teens have highest prevalence. "But many of the studies we have done have lacked a gender perspective, and they don’t take into account the context of adolescent lives ... the context in which transmission happens," Erulkar said. Research shows that girls tend to have their first sexual encounters with older boys. "Age differences of even a few years have implications for power and decision-making in relationships for adolescent girls," she said. Studies of rural and urban Zimbabwe youth showed that 3/4 of girls would have preferred to delay their first sexual experiences and felt sad afterwards; 2/3 to 3/4 of the boys wanted to start having sex at that point and were happy afterwards. "It appears that they’re experiencing two different things altogether, and boys see it as a conquest," Erulkar said. "Boys put pressure on other boys to have intercourse and these boys in turn put pressure on girls, who often acquiesce or are forced."

Bryn Mawr in Africa and Africa at Bryn Mawr

After the conference, the faculty representing Bryn Mawr spent two days in Uganda exploring possibilities for academic exchanges. The visit was initiated and organized by Bryn Mawr's first Ugandan undergraduate, Nimisha Madhvani ’78, First Secretary and Investment Officer with the Embassy of Uganda in Washington.

At the invitation of First Lady Janet Museveni, faculty met with university, agency and diplomatic officials to discuss ways in which Bryn Mawr might form linkages with Uganda, but most especially with Makerere University. Among the possibilities are contact between faculty, sharing research and published papers in similar areas of interest. Philip Kilbride, Chair and Professor of Anthropology, and The Mary Hale Chase Chair in the Social Sciences and Social Work and Social Research, intends to update his publications on family life and social change in East Africa, which are used at the university.

"HIV-AIDS research, an area in which other U.S. universities are already working with Uganda, makes immediate sense for Bryn Mawr because we have faculty on this end doing research on the social aspects and consequences of HIV-AIDS," said Mary Osirim, associate professor of sociology. Gender studies, for which Maker-ere has a graduate and undergraduate department, is another shared interest. Faculty-student ex-changes might be conducted along the lines of what Bryn Mawr already does with the universities of Ghana, Nairobi, Senegal and Zimbabwe—a certain number of undergraduate students go to an African university for at least for a semester in exchange for a faculty member or graduate student. "There is a desperate need in Uganda for training women at the Ph.D. level in sciences, so we’re hoping for possible linkages there given the strengths that we have," she said.

At Makerere University are, from left: Mary Osirim; Betty Vermey ’58; Professor P.J.M. Ssebuwufu, Vice-Chancellor of Makerere University; Philip Kilbride; Priscilla Cohn Ferrater-Mora ’60, Ph.D. ’69, professor of philosophy at Penn State Abington College; and Associate Professor of Political Science Michael Allen. Ferrater-Mora presented a paper at the conference arguing for a connection between movements for women’s rights and the ethical treatment of animals. Associate Professor Emeritus of Social Work and Social Research Greta Zybon also spoke on behalf of the College.

Kilbride commented that, "When I first came to Bryn Mawr in 1969, there was only one course concerning Africa taught on campus, by Professor Herbert Aptheker in the history department. Now, we have a full-blown Africana studies concentration program with 17 faculty at Bryn Mawr and Haverford. Courses are drawn from a variety of disciplines. We are filling a new faculty position, for an historian specializing in West African history." Several years ago, Bryn Mawr joined the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford and Swarthmore in an African Studies Consortium with funding from the U.S. Department of Education. The consortium has made it possible to offer a yearly Swahili course at Bryn Mawr, which is very heavily subscribed, to develop a number of new courses, and to hold conferences.

An ongoing relationship between Bryn Mawr and Africa well preceded the consortium grant, under the auspices of the 1993 Bryn Mawr Africa Fund established by Lady Helen Bell de Freitas ’31, A.B. ’32, which has funded more than 20 students to accompany faculty in doing research and studying in Africa. Since 1969, the College has funded a Commonwealth African Traveling Scholarship, which has enabled 17 students to spend at least six months in various countries in Africa doing study or research. The Koobi-Fora exchange, founded in 1984, sponsored two Kenyan graduate students to come to Bryn Mawr to do Ph.D.s in anthropological archaeology, while our students in various departments continue to work at the world-famous Koobi-Fora archaeological excavations.

Trickle-up operations

Two members of a panel on development strategics described the work of the international organizations they head.

Suzan Habachy ’54, Executive Director of the NewYork City-based Trickle Up program, which works at the grassroots level and has as its constituency the 1.3 billion people of the world who live on less than a dollar or even 50 cents a day.

Habachy, who was born in Egypt, spent 25 years with the United Nations, where, she said, "I engaged in ‘Trickle Down’ economics, so when I retired I was very excited about being offered the chance to work at Trickle Up. We give an individual or community $50 if they create a business plan. If, after three months or some flexible period, the recipients have saved some of their profit, we will give another $50. This seed money is part of a first step to being able to rise out of dire poverty, perhaps to go on to access credit from the many micro-credit programs."

Before the conference, Habachy visited Molo with an organization helping the disabled. "In Molo, the constituents are not only disabled, but they are also displaced as a result of clashes in that region. I visited 14 small businesses. (We expect to start 3,000 by the end of next year.) Mr. James W. is a shoemaker. Although he doesn’t have an arm, he does employ two helpers and he manages the small business of shoe making and shoe repairing. I meet a mother with a disabled child, who with the Trickle Up funds bought a sheep. Because she has a little bit of land, it allows her to stay home, care for her disabled child and have income from taking care of livestock."

The Rev. Samuel Akiiki Murangi, an M.S.S. candidate, is the founder of High Hope International Mission, a church-based non-profit organization currently based in Bryn Mawr. Murangi began the parent mission in Western Uganda in 1994, out of frustration with the church’s treatment of the poor. "Instead of top-down, the church was using the down-up approach—the resources were coming from the poor and sustaining those with opportunities, who were able to sustain themselves." When he came to Bryn Mawr, he shared his vision with the college administration and with the congregation of Good Shepherd Church in Rosemont, where he was serving as an assistant priest. High Hope’s main objective is to reach the destitute and children in the western part of Uganda and give them the opportunity to acquire basic education and skills so that they can be self-reliant in the future. "Currently we are paying school fees for around 35 young women and 25 boys," he said."We hope that this number will have doubled by the year 2000 to 100 or 150 as well as expand to other countries."

cover icon Return to Spring 2000 highlights