Interview with Alfred Babo, Visiting Global Scholar at Smith College

Isabelle Fitzpatrick ’18
Contributing Writer

What is your background? What brought you to Smith?

I am a visiting scholar on campus at Smith College. I arrived here in January 2012 as a Scholar at Risk. Scholars at Risk is an organization that advocates for helping faculty and scholars who are threatened in their country, and they try to offer them space where they can be hosted and can continue their activities for a while. I am an anthropologist and sociologist, and I’ve published a lot on policy-making, identity, citizenship and immigration, specifically related to causes of the political crisis and war that put me out of my country.

Can you talk about migration, forced displacement and refugees in Africa and how these issues are different from the highly publicized immigration crises in Europe?

What is an issue now is the issue of documentation — to get in our countries, to go from one African country to another even if you’re an African. Most people were moved during the colonial period because of colonial projects, forced to go from one region to another, to develop regions that colonists really wanted to exploit, for example, agricultural resources.  As of the 1990s, they have decided to make documentation clear because people are so mixed, and this was the beginning of the democratic regimes in most African countries, so documentation became important for voting. We started to have an identity crisis among ordinary citizens and political leaders. Now we have people moving, based on political situation, to the Ivory Coast and Senegal, which are more stabilized than countries that have war or coup d’états. We have refugees, and most refugees are caused by the civil wars in African countries. We have people forced to be displaced in Mali, in African Central Republic, in DRC, in Uganda, within countries and across borders. All these things make migration particular to the African context.

You said in a previous interview that you thought Smith had the potential to be a leader in improving problems in immigration and forced displacement. How do you suggest Smith can take steps toward this?

When I said this last year, I wanted Smith to continue the conversation around these issues. We now have a lecture series on these issues, and we also have added a film series. This is a good occasion for students to have conversations with faculty, and this is how we can continue this leadership. It’s not only about lectures of faculty but about what kind of action our students can initiate in terms of advocacy. We need to bring Smith College’s voice to the media about what’s really happening in Europe, start talking about refugees as human beings and not only as illegal immigrants. The best way for Smith to take leadership is through the students.

What courses are you teaching next semester?

Next semester, I will be teaching the Five College African Senior Colloquium, which is a course in African studies for students coming back from study abroad in Africa or planning to go abroad to Africa. I will also be teaching a course at UMass, titled Anthropology and Development in Africa.

What events and programs are you involved in on campus?

Janie Vanpee, the director of the Global Studies Center, wanted to make a connection between the work I am doing and my personal story as a Scholar at Risk, and the best way was for me to coordinate the Humanities Lab on forced displacement and immigration. We have also had two ways to involve students in my work. The first was a workshop of students from different countries, where we talked about identity on campus. The second way has been to organize independent studies with the Center for Community Collaboration, and I had students who did research on gender and education within the refugee community. I hope to have more independent studies and draw students to work on these issues.

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