NU professor encourages students to study democracy in Africa

Isabella Jiao, Reporter

Political science Prof. Richard Joseph explored democracy in Africa and different ways to understand the global dynamics of the continent at a Buffett Institute for Global Studies event Friday.

Joseph began his speech by defining the present as “a moment to step back” and review the development of Africa throughout history.

“Being able to reflect on what’s happening globally, we can know how Northwestern can contribute in positive ways to understand those very complicated dynamics,” he said to a crowd of dozens of people.

The talk was organized by the Buffett Institute and sponsored by the Program of African Studies. The audience comprised not only students and faculty but also former University President Henry Bienen.

Joesph first looked back on how international dynamics have changed since 1989, especially how states have changed and developed. He noted the severity of problems including global terrorism and corruption in many African countries. He gave the example of Nigeria, summarizing its long struggle toward democracy being disrupted by the military’s agenda. He also commented on South Africa, saying its democracy is still missing in action.

“Authoritarian (government) is unfortunately still very resilient,” he said.

Medill graduate student Ali Martin was especially interested in Joseph’s observations of different African countries.

“I like that he mentioned how different the countries’ journeys towards democracy are, such as those of Nigeria and South Africa,” she said. “It’s interesting to know that such diversity exists in the continent.”

Joseph devoted much of his career to studying democracy in Africa, paying special attention to Nigeria, where he said he still focuses much of his work. He was the director of the African Governance Program at the Carter Center, a philanthropic nonprofit founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He also facilitated elections missions in Zambia, Ghana and peace initiatives in Liberia.

“What we talked about today is a big issue for both Northwestern and the Buffett Institute,” said Bruce Carruthers, director of the Buffett Institute. “More scholars should definitely think about it.”

More research should focus on these topics in the future, Joseph said.

“There should be more Northwestern students going to Africa and Nigeria,” he said at the end of the session.

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