afrika aphukira

Midwiving the Afrikan rebirth. . . Views of Afrika and the world, on the path to the renaissance, from a social justice and an Afrikan epistemological perspective--uMunthu. Includes specific commentary on Malawi and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Guest is Like Morning Dew

[Note: Following the “Last Lecture” given by the late Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch, the Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU), the university’s student government, has invited Michigan State University professors to come up with their own versions of a hypothetical “last lecture.” My lecture, presented below, is the third and last in the series for the 2008-2009 academic year].

A Guest is Like Morning Dew: Teaching and Searching for uMunthu-Peace in an Asymmetrical World

Steve Sharra, Ph.D.
ASMSU “Last Lecture” Series
Wharton Center, Pasant Theatre
April 8, 2009


The title of my talk tonight comes from a Malawian proverb, in my first language, Chichewa. The Chichewa version reads as follows: Mlendo ndi mame, sachedwa kukamuka. The literal translation is that a guest is like morning dew, it doesn’t stay for long. There are two possible, inter-related meanings in this proverb. On the one hand, the proverb offers reassurance to a host that the guest they have welcomed into their house will not stay too long. There is no need therefore to worry about the inconvenience. On the other hand, the proverb is offering advice to the host on what can best be described through the use of the English proverb make hay while the sun shines. The guest is not going to stay too long; enjoy whatever time you have with them. My first language, Chichewa, has lots of proverbs offering all kinds of advice on how hosts relate with guests, and how to live life in general. Another proverb concerning guests and hosts goes: It is the guest who brings a sharp tweezers. As with most Chichewa proverbs, there is a story behind this proverb, as with the one in the title. In this particular story, a lonely traveler was passing through a village. It grew dark, and one family in the village persuaded the guest to stay for the night and continue on with the journey when it was bright and safe the next morning. During the night, one of the children in the house woke up in the middle of the night. He was crying from the pain of a thorn which had lodged itself in the child’s foot. The parents tried using a tweezers, but it was too blunt to remove the thorn. The guest woke up and brought out a tweezers. Out came the thorn.

My purpose in referring to these proverbs about guests and hosts is twofold. First, I want to reflect on what I have learned about myself and my country from having lived away for as long as I have. Malawians pride themselves on learning from other societies; a truism that originates at the level of the individual human being and the beginnings of a human society. Secondly, I want to make a suggestion about how to put educational acquisition and intellectual pursuits to uses that promote our livelihood and that of others. As in most Southern African cultures, one is human because of other human beings, a concept captured in the meaning of the term ‘uMunthu’, in the title of my talk.

The concept of uMunthu has come to stand for probably the most important, as well as the most intriguing aspect of what I have learned as a guest in this country. Most important because uMunthu is the very definition that constitutes us as human beings, bound to one another in time and space. Most intriguing because I did not begin to take seriously the importance of the term until the first time that I returned to Malawi in 2004, after being away for six years. Since then, I have come to view the world through the lenses of that concept, and to hope that teaching and learning could promote greater harmony, peace and justice in the world. I have also come to appreciate the caution from curriculum theorists that any educational curriculum and pedagogical practices are occupied by agendas that are not always explicit, nor disinterested. Faculty and students can therefore use this caution and reflect on the hidden curricula that might be covertly teaching things that do not necessarily promote a better world.

The beginnings of my journey lie in my having been born and raised in Malawi, where the concept of uMunthu-peace is at once a proud heritage and a discarded relic. I will, in the process of this talk, discuss Malawi in the context of its recent history and contemporary concerns, my failed ambitions to become a Catholic priest, and how I found redemption by becoming a teacher instead. I will also discuss my teaching for peace here at Michigan State University (MSU), and how it fits in with the larger quest for peace and justice in the MSU community, in the Greater Lansing area, and globally. I will finish with an exhortation about how the promotion of peace and justice ought to lie at the heart of our academic and intellectual pursuits, across the disciplines.

For a country that is as small as the American state of Pennsylvania, the saying that no news is good news has been both true and untrue. The size of the country, in comparison with its neighbors in Southern Africa, has been one explanation offered for why very few people outside Africa have ever heard of the country. The journalistic quip that if it bleeds, it leads, has been relatively accurate for Malawi, a country that like its neighbors in the south-eastern part of Africa, with the exception of Mozambique, has prided itself on long-lasting peaceful relations with other countries. Tourist guidebooks describe Malawi as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ whose people are always smiling and always eager to offer hospitality to guests from abroad. In my first language Chichewa, the language spoken by at least 80 percent of Malawians and smaller percentages of citizens of our neighboring countries, the term that most closely resembles the word “stranger” is the word we use for “guest”: “mlendo.” While the English language uses words such as guest, visitor or stranger to make distinctions about people we come into contact with, and differentiate between levels of familiarity and social distance, in Chichewa “mlendo” is the only term we have. And “mlendo” is a guest, with no suggestions as to whether the person is a stranger to be afraid of, or a guest to welcome into one’s fold.

Like all societies and nations, Malawians also view themselves through categories of national narratives and myths. Psychologists call these narratives “archetypes,” as the peace educationist Carl Mirra reminds us in his recent book on US Foreign Policy and peace education. What I have just described in the preceding thoughts is one example of a Malawian archetype, in which most Malawians like to hold on to a notion of brotherly and sisterly love; a peace-loving nation. So is the notion that Malawi is the “Warm Heart of Africa.” As with all archetypes of national character and myths, they contain some truths about a society, but they also foster some falsehoods. Some ugly truths are sometimes buried inside the stark reality, while others are repeated and internalized. So Malawi remains an unknown, obscure corner of the world where, in the eyes of the non-specialist Westerner nothing much happens. Of late, however, we, or rather our orphaned infants, have attracted the unlikely attention of celebrities, with pop star Madonna adopting one David Banda, and now attempting to adopt Chifundo James. The decision of a Malawian judge, Justice Esmie Chombo, to deny the adoption according to Malawian law, has torn Malawians into bitter, fractious emotions that betray a frightening amount of self-loathing, if not pessimism. We have also had a Malawian woman, Marie Da Silva, celebrated as one of ten CNN Heros for 2008, a development many Malawians felt proud of. On the political scene, our current president has been featured in the pages of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Financial Times for defying the advice of the IMF and the World Bank to offer farm input subsidies to Malawian farmers. That initiative has transformed Malawi from a food-importer into a food-exporter in under four years. As pointed out by the Malawian intellectual and development economist Thandika Mkandawire, the Economist Intelligence Unit has projected a more than 8 percent economic growth for Malawi for 2009, the second highest in the world after Qatar’s 14 percent.

The origins of Malawian nationhood were shaped under such obscurity, when the country, not known for mineral wealth, was mostly considered to be a labor reservoir for the gold, diamond and copper mines of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The first nationalist stirrings were also carried out under the same obscurity, when the activist pastor John Chilembwe led nonviolent protests in the early 1900s, culminating into an armed uprising that took his life in 1915. Barely three months into Malawi’s independence from the British in 1964, Malawi’s first president, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, chose to listen to warnings from his British advisers that his young Malawian ministers were plotting against him. Dr. Banda parted company with many members of his newly created cabinet, most of whom chose to resign in solidarity with their dissenting colleagues. Dr. Banda set about consolidating his power, which saw him rule Malawi for 30 years. The human rights group Article 19 summed up the political atmosphere in Malawi for those 30 years in its report, published toward the end of the Banda era, entitled, Where Silence Rules.

Dr. Banda’s grip on Malawi started observably to loosen at the turn of the 80s entering into the 90s. That was also the time that looking back, I see my social consciousness beginning to develop. My earliest memory of a developing political and social consciousness has become part of my autobiographical narrative. It is a lengthy tale starting with an emerging conscientization through Jamaican reggae music, walking through the years I spent as a seminarian, up to the time when I became a school teacher, at the turn of the 1990s. The late reggae star Bob Marley had a lot to do with it.

I bought my first ever cassette tape using the meager savings I kept from my school pocket money. I was in Standard 8 (8th grade) at the time, and aged 14. That cassette tape was Bob Marley’s 1983 album, “Confrontation,” released two years after his death. It was in particular Marley’s song “Trench Town” and its lyrics about the social class struggles of poor Jamaicans that resonated with me.

The lyrics represented something I could recognize and identify with in my daily life. Although both my parents had tertiary education and were both working, my mother as a school teacher and my father as a police officer, we did not belong to the class of the well-to-do in Malawi. We always had enough food and decent clothes, but we lacked amenities that some had access to in our neighborhood. For many years the only electricity we knew of was from the night lights at the main offices where my father worked, from the bigger and better houses of senior ranked police officers nearby, and from school. There was a water faucet in the bathroom, but water was available only at night. During the day, we lined up outside the house of another police officer, slightly more senior in rank, to fetch water.

In 1985 I entered Nankhunda Seminary, still aged 14, having completed 2 years at Thondwe preparatory seminary, where I went to at age 11. It was my father’s incorrigible wish for me to become a Catholic priest. Soon it became my personal goal. I sauntered through my adolescent years praying for the strength and commitment necessary to make a difficult life-long decision. I was convinced I would succeed. Three years later, I was asked to leave the seminary.

The events surrounding my departure from the seminary have remained as vivid in my imagination as if they happened only last week. On the morning of July 17, 1988, the last day of my Form Three (11th grade), the then rector (principal) of Nankhunda Seminary, Fr. Dr. Vincent Nzolima (RIP), called for me to go and see him in his office. I took it to be a routine, casual call. I imagined that he would probably mention to me things I needed to know for the coming year. I was one of three House Captains, a leadership position I was going to carry with me into Form Four. I was also chairperson of the Lwanga Parish students at Nankhunda; captain of the school’s chess club, and also of the volleyball team. Thus nothing prepared me for the news Fr. Dr. Nzolima, a tall, slim, gentle-mannered Malawian priest delivered to me that cold mountain morning.

The seminary staff had decided that I not return for my last year of secondary school, he said to me, looking down at some papers on his desk. “The staff feel that you seem better suited to the other side of the world,” he stated in his measured, slow voice. It had become a running joke among seminarians at Nankhunda to try and parrot Fr. Dr. Nzolima’s slow, dragged speech pattern.

This news was most unexpected, and for a moment I felt as though I was floating in the air of his lowly-lit, claustrophobic office. It wasn’t until I was on the road, walking down the 6-mile descent from the western tip of Zomba Plateau, three thousand feet above sea level, that it hit me. Could this really be the end of the road for my life as a seminarian? How was I going to break the news to my parents? I did not want to believe it. My friends sensed what had happened. Nobody asked a question. I walked the rest of the way in silence, down the winding path, crossing the cold glistening streams and breathing in the fresh air of Zomba Mountain. It seemed as if even the majestic beauty of the mountain and its green overgrowth had conspired with the seminary in terminating my clerical ambitions.

The priests at Nankhunda did not like to discuss the issue of ‘weeding.’ Every time it came up, they would say it was really God who saw into everyone’s heart, and who knew whether one was going to become a priest or not. All that the priests were doing, they liked to say, was carrying out God’s pre-arranged order. It was all captured in a biblical verse, “Many are called, few are chosen,” (Matthew 22: 14). And we reflected this in the song we sang every night in the chapel before retiring to our dormitories:

Yesu ati munda wakula (Jesus says the field is huge)

Antchito aperewera (The workers are few)

Ntchito yanga ili yambiri (My work is heavy)

Adzandithandize ndani? (Who will join in and help me)?

Eh Ambuye, ndife ananu (Oh Lord, we are your children)

Tiwopa, tilibe nzeru (We fear, we have no wisdom)

Koma inu mukatifuna (But if you need us Lord)

Tidzavomera (We shall respond)

The news of the expulsion devastated my parents. My father had worked hard to get me into the Catholic seminary from when I was 11 years old, and both he and my mother were hoping I would be the first priest in all of the extended Sharra clan. Now that hope had been shattered. Not only that, but I also needed to find another secondary school for my last year. There were very few secondary schools in Malawi at the time, and the competition was always stiff. By the beginning of the next school year I had been allowed to finish my last year of secondary school at Police Secondary School, a private school built in the early 80s to accommodate children of police officers.

I had been at Police Secondary School for less than a week when I noticed an intriguing trend. Everyone was supposed to bring their own plate, fork, spoon, and cup, as the school did not provide these. That very first week my cup and plate went missing from my dorm room. I feared they had been stolen, and reported the matter to the dining hall prefect. He explained that there was a system rampant on campus in which people indiscriminately used other people’s property, without necessarily stealing them. He reassured me that my cup and plate would soon turn up somewhere. Meanwhile, he advised, “feel free to pick up and use whatever cup and plate you found lying around.”

On Friday that week I wrote an article entitled ‘Plate communism.’ I questioned the practice of taking and using other people’s utensils without their permission, and pointed out that it was an inconvenience to some. That evening somebody whispered to me that my commentary had angered some prominent senior students, who queried what right a new comer like me had in questioning established practice at the school. They threatened to deal with me. I was advised to quietly leave campus and come back in the evening, when tempers would have perhaps subsided. Early Saturday morning I left campus and went home. I spent the rest of the day at home, and returned to campus after dark.

I reported the threat to a friend, Andrews Nchesi, who went and told the English teacher who was also our drama director, Mr. Lot Dzonzi. On Monday morning at assembly, Mr. Dzonzi condemned the threat, and advised everyone that the best way to deal with ideas one found disagreeable on the Writers’ Corner was to respond in writing as well. He said the purpose of the Writers’ Corner was for people to express their ideas and engage in constructive debate. I continued writing and posting on the board, but I steered clear of openly controversial issues.

I got to know Mr. Lot Dzonzi a lot better through the drama group, and felt much inspired by him. Towards the end of the first term, he approached me and another student, Vitumbiko Kamanga, and asked us to begin reading and studying Sizwe Bansi is Dead, a two-character play by the renowned South African playwright and anti-apartheid activist, Athol Fugard (1974), for a performance later in the school year (the performance did not materialize). That year, for the first time in the history of Police Secondary School, we came third in the national schools drama festivals. The following year, after I had finished Form Four and left, Vitu wrote a play that won Police Secondary School first prize in a national HIV/AIDS playwriting competition.

One afternoon after finishing my secondary school, Mr. Dzonzi suggested that we spend one afternoon visiting the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College campus, where he would introduce me to a few important Malawian writers whom he said I needed to be in touch with. They were his former college classmates, now teaching at Chancellor College.

One Sunday evening, I heard Professor Steve Chimombo, one of Malawi’s most prolific creative writers, a teacher of writing and a long time publisher of Malawi’s only arts magazine, WASI, being interviewed on the government-run national radio station. It was the only radio station in Malawi at the time, named the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). He was being interviewed on a weekly literary program called ‘Writers’ Corner.’

The next morning I walked to Chancellor College. I walked along the long, concrete corridor, checking the name on each door as I passed by. I located Professor Chimombo’s door, which was half ajar, and knocked. As I entered the office, my eyes landed on a face that had become familiar around Zomba Municipality. Professor Chimombo kept his hair long, and nursed a goatee, both of which made him look a lot like Wole Soyinka the Nigerian playwright and critic, the first black African to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1987.

Professor Chimombo welcomed me and told me to take a seat. I introduced myself, and explained the reason I had come to his office. I asked him how I could join the Chancellor College Writers’ Workshop that he had talked about in the radio interview. He talked about his trip to Ghana, where they had established the Pan African Writers Association. He told me that the Chancellor College Writers’ Workshop was being coordinated by his colleague Dr. Anthony Nazombe. He encouraged me to go and see Dr. Nazombe, whose office was not too far from his.

Dr. Nazombe always wore a bright, pleasant and cheerful smile. He was of medium height and build, slightly bald, and clean shaven. Upon explaining to him why I had come to his office, Dr. Nazombe encouraged me to join and become a member of the Writers’ Workshop. Before I left his office I purchased a copy of his just released anthology of Malawian poetry, The Haunting Wind: New Poetry from Malawi (1990). Another Malawi, one I had not encountered before, opened up before my eyes. I read poetry that spoke about my country in a way I had not known before. In those poems I heard the voices of Malawians who had been forced into exile because political dissent had been outlawed.

Reading the poetry, I heard the voices of Malawians murdered because they had raised questions about the country’s leadership. I saw images of Malawians, materially impoverished, yet forced to praise the country’s leadership for the ‘independence’ the life president had brought us from British colonialism. I opened my eyes to the Malawi for which heroic individuals had shed blood, to end a racist dependency on a foreign ideology and regain local control of the change process, only to end up with another, equally morbid dependency.

The poems selected by Dr. Anthony Nazombe in his edited anthology took my incipient consciousness a step further into the direction that Bob Marley’s music and Jamaican reggae had already started. In the poetry, which we curiously never read in secondary school (though we had a progressive English teacher, the curriculum was uniform across the country), I uncovered a form of forbidden knowledge that wasn’t talked about in grown-up circles. On the one hand were the issues and topics buried in the cryptic verses of Malawian poetry, and on the other were the social conditions in which I lived, and in which my family and many other Malawians interacted. While some of the poems awakened my awareness about a hidden side of my country, others opened my eyes to equally repressive, exploitative conditions of inequality and injustice prevalent in other parts of the world. A poem Anthony Nazombe himself took aim at the world system in which the poor give to the rich:

The reverse of the Robin Hood saga

Is solemnly enacted year in year out

On the crown of this hill

As our revered dons steal from the poor

To give to the rich in the name of civilization,

Full economic costs and Government cuts.

Another poem, by Shemu Joyah, put into words and painted a picture of a world that could as well have been taken straight out of the 7 o’clock evening news bulletin from the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, or any American TV channel in 2009:

Early morning:

A poisonous gas

As repugnant as rotten eggs,

Will blow from the east, followed

By a shower of bullets from the West

Gradually intensifying in the afternoon.

Bombs and grenades will fall

In places of high population.

Late afternoon:

Jet-fighters and bombers

Will raid many areas avoiding those

Previously attacked to save ammunition.

Twilight will be disturbed by troopers

Parachuting from a thousand planes

To put final touches to all survivors.

At dusk a fanfare will mark

The end of a good day’s work.

Further outlook:

Similar weather,

with little changes on mountain tops

And in the deserts.

I found Shemu Joyah’s poetry gripping in its dark, ominous view of the world, which considered violence to be a facet of life not just in Malawi but elsewhere around the world. For many years I read and reread his conversation with an imaginary blind child:

Even in your immensely dark world

Where day and night merge into one pulse of time

You’ll experience the bright world without.

Do not mind the light you miss

For it is dimmer than you think

Only know that you are a homosapiens

. . .

Oh blind child

Don’t lament your sight

Only touch my face and feel it:

That is the face of a man tortured by his eyes.

In December 1989 I entered Lilongwe Teachers’ College where I was to spend four years, on and off-campus, training as a primary school teacher. An event that occurred just before we finished our program and graduated in September 1993 was evidence of the seismic political changes Malawi was undergoing. A rumor spread quickly around campus alleging that the Ministry of Education had been diverting some of the money we were supposed to receive as part of our stipends. The rumor alleged that in the contract documents the Malawi government had signed with the World Bank, which provided the loan for our teacher education program, our stipends were much higher. Dumba, who had been an obscure member of our student writers’ group, emerged as the student leader for the agitation that followed these rumors. We staged demonstrations and refused to go to class. We chanted songs about the money that had been stolen from us by the government. We put up placards denouncing the administrators of the program as thieves. Adding fuel to our actions was a national referendum held the previous year, 1992, in which the majority of Malawians had voted to end three decades of single party rule and adopt multiparty democracy. These were exciting times in Malawi. This was the first time since independence in 1964 that Malawians were able to demonstrate, and hold the government and the leadership to account for their actions. It was also the first time that the media could report on such issues, the number of newspapers having blossomed from the one government-run newspaper to well over twenty newspapers in a space of twelve months.

Today, Malawians have differing views about what life was like during Dr. Banda’s thirty-year rule. Some Malawians thrived, and they have fond memories of Dr. Banda and his rule. Many younger Malawians have come of age in the post-Banda era, and not having had experienced one-party rule, their knowledge is based on what they read, and what their elders tell them. Other Malawians suffered from the brutality of a regime whose supporters sometimes took matters into their own hands and inflicted on other Malawians fates that even Dr. Banda himself was shocked upon hearing about them after his presidency. The multi-party governments that have ruled Malawi since the end of the one-party era in 1994 have chosen not to institute any form of truth commission to investigate the abuses of that time. As a result narratives of what actually happened are subjected to speculative talk and idiosyncratic exaggerations that go either way. The worsening economic plight of many people in Malawi and the Southern African region since the early 1990s also conjures up its own explanations. To some Malawians, nostalgia comes from the economic and political stability of the one-party era, as well as its low levels of crime, hospitals that were staffed and had medicines, and schools that had teachers and enough supplies. Much of Southern Africa has experienced a substantial decline in the socio-economic status of the people, much of it stemming from a combination of mismanagement as well as the World Bank’s and the IMF’s neo-liberal Structural Adjustment Policies. For some Malawians the easy distinction is between the comforts of the one-party state versus the decline experienced after the introduction of multipartyism. For others it is between the oppression experienced then, and the social and political freedoms opened up by the change.

For me, the sustained study of what it means to be Malawian and African in the world has been central to my intellectual pursuits. Much of my reflection and analysis in the past eleven years has been enabled by the perspective of a guest in a foreign land, looking at my country and continent from outside. That perspective has given me a vantage point from which to pursue an inquiry into questions that have come to shape my worldview. It is a worldview shaped by the Malawi I grew up in, with all its contradictions about at once the humanity of uMunthu and a brutal dictatorship; my failed priestly ambitions, and my having become a teacher. It is a perspective that continues to shape the purposes and aims that I use to approach the teaching and the searching for the type of peace I have called “uMunthu-peace” in the title of this talk.

This is the fourth semester in which I am teaching an Intergrative Arts & Humanities (IAH) course whose broader theme is Moral Issues in the Arts & Humanities. The Department of Philosophy has designated this course as a Peace and Justice Studies course, and I have premised it on the theme of Rethinking Conflict and Violence. In the course I throw out a challenge to students, who come from various majors across the MSU campus. I ask students to reflect on the ways in which their disciplines, however esoteric and seemingly distant from social and political concerns of society, have the potential to promote peace both at the local as well as the global level. I always expect that the majority of students choose the course first because it falls within a set of MSU’s general graduation requirements, and second because it fits in which their overall schedule for the semester. Occasionally, a handful of students take the course because they are curious to know more about peace issues, or because they already have a personal passion for better understanding and promoting peace and justice in their communities.

The course introduces students to some of the key concepts in the study of peace and justice, which I interpret as being familiar with the types of peace defined in the literature. These concepts include positive peace, negative peace and holistic peace. Conventionally, what most people regard as “peace” is what peace scholars call “negative peace.” This is a peace obtained in the absence of overt violence or war. However it is possible to have this kind of peace, while buried inside the structures and institutions of our societies are insidious types of violence and injustice not easily observable. While negative peace is necessary as a starting point, it does not guarantee long lasting peace in and of itself. It requires positive peace, defined as the building and enactment of social structures that affirm people’s humanity and enhance the worth and value of life. Holistic peace takes this task further to connect individuals to their inner being and that of others. Holistic peace views the whole earth as an inter-related part of our community, as Aldo Leopold observed back in 1949. The need to care for the earth and consider it part of the community has been given impetus by recent high profile attention to it, including the recognition given by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to the Kenyan convervationist, Dr. Wangari Maathai, and more recently, former vice president Al Gore.

In some African, Asian and Native American cultures, nature takes on a special role in society because it is part of the living community that sustains life and also connects people with their ancestors. Holistic peace enables a view of nature that merges modern scientific knowledge with traditional forms of knowledge that mutually advance one another, while preserving the earth and its life-sustaining qualities.

It is from the definitions of who we are as human beings, and the responsibilities that those definitions bequeath to us, that the type of peace that I call uMunthu-peace emerges. This is a concept I began developing as part of my doctoral dissertation research, in 2004, but its promotion has had its fare share of celebrity promotion. The most prominent proponent of uMunthu has been the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, who reflected in his 1999 memoirs on the role that the concept played in the formulation of South African’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee. The TRC process in South Africa was not perfect, and it is sometimes blamed for having failed to address grievances whose festering wounds have proliferated the violence that has gripped South Africa since the end of apartheid. Nevertheless, Archbishop Tutu has argued that forgiveness was a necessary part of the process to move on after the type of trauma that apartheid inflicted on South Africa and its neighbors. Tutu has also observed that as an African philosophy of how human beings define their existence, the spirit of uMunthu (uBuntu) was the reason why many African countries were able to transition from colonialism to independence without retaliatory violence against white minority regimes and settler populations. Examples include Zimbabwe, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and many other countries.

Students and faculty interested in the promotion of peace have been excited at the news that former Archbishop Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, will be giving the commencement address at the May 2009 graduation ceremonies. He will also be awarded an Honorary Doctorate by MSU. This gesture will be a befitting tribute to a global leader for peace who has spent a life time promoting acknowledgement, confession and forgiveness as elements of peace and justice. The gesture will also place MSU on the map of efforts to promote global peace, enhancing the profile of programs and departments, faculty and students who see peace and justice as the most important goal that the academy can contribute to. It is to these peace promotion efforts by faculty and students at MSU that I want to turn to, as I conclude this talk.

I would like to note that the struggle for peace and justice locally and globally has enjoyed a nurturing space and atmosphere here at Michigan State University and in the Lansing community. MSU is renowned for its pioneering role in the struggle against apartheid in the 70s and 80s, and also in the study of agriculture as a measure for ending hunger around the world. The Peace and Justice Studies Specialization is currently conducting a pilot study, through the work of two students, Nkechi Okeafor in Anthropology, and Becca Farnum in Interdisciplinary Humanities, to create historical and intellectual profiles of peace and justice projects and community groups in and around Lansing and Michigan.

Several student groups on campus are currently engaged in projects for the promotion of peace and justice both locally and globally. The Peace and Justice Studies Specialization has keenly followed and offered moral support for these student groups and their projects, seeing an important link between academic research and scholarship on the one hand, and social and community activism on the other. In particular I would like to mention groups such as Students for Peace and Justice, under the leadership of Jessica Jensen and Becca Farnum, 4Peace, Inc., under the leadership of Horia Djimarescu; Peace Over Prejudice under the leadership of Nada Zhody and Maweza Razzaq; Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, under the leadership of Dua Aldasouqi and Afreen Syed, and more recently, Active Peace, founded by Stefanie Kendall, a doctoral candidate in Teacher Education. Just this past week, on Tuesday March 31st, the MSU Jewish Student Union joined hands with the group Peace Over Prejudice to organize a campus forum where three Jewish and Muslim members from the One Voice Movement described efforts by young Israelis and Palestinians who are working to promote peace between Israel and Palestine.

This coming Friday, April 10th, a group of twelve faculty members will be finishing a year-long faculty development project known as the Teaching Commons. Through the Teaching Commons initiative we have spend the 2008/2009 academic year studying MSU’s academic goals, specifically those pertaining to the internationalization of the undergraduate curriculum and the attainment of global competencies for MSU students. The outcome of the initiative will be a series of courses whose goals aim to improve curriculum delivery and pedagogy, with a specific focus on peace and justice studies content.

In the community, we have the internationally respected Michigan Peace Team, the Peace Education Center, the Greater Lansing Network Against War and Injustice, and many other such groups all dedicated to the promotion of peace in our community and around the world. There are many more groups and individuals too numerous to mention, who dedicate their time and energy to this cause. They are all part of a legacy at MSU, and an enabling atmosphere which students can and should take advantage of, and connect their learning, across the disciplines, to the promotion of peace. It is in these efforts to promote peace and justice that we see the most important cause to which one can link their academic education and intellectual pursuits.

Were this to be my last lecture, these would be the thoughts I would wish to be remembered by: A guest whose view of the world was that of dew on a summer morning. Thank you very much for coming, and for continuing to be a part of my journey learning, teaching and searching.

View blog reactions posted by steve sharra @ Saturday, April 11, 2009

4 Comments:

At Monday, April 13, 2009 8:43:00 AM, Blogger Michigan Peace Team said...

Steve, the majority of students in our internship program come from Michigan State. How wonderful to live in a community - as you have pointed out - that nurtures peace with justice. And how encouraging that faculty like you at MSU continue to remind students that one person CAN make a difference in making this world a better place. All of us at Michigan Peace Team applaud you and the students who have joined hands in this cause. - Mary Hanna/MPT Operations Manager

 
At Tuesday, April 14, 2009 8:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve, I applaud you for such a profound piece of work. Reflecting on the history of Malawi from your personal life experiences and intellectual pursuit on Umunthu-Peace demonstrates why you are passionate about nurturing peace and Justice. At the same time it compels us all to pursue peace and justice at all times and with a passion. I am glad that there is a generation of MSU students that will just like you and the rest of the Michigan Peace Team champion Peace in their various spaces of influence. Olivia Mchaju Liwewe. Malawi.

 
At Friday, April 24, 2009 1:23:00 AM, Blogger Mercy said...

Dr. Sharra.. thanks for sharing your "last lecture".. inde tonse ndi alendo in this world. Koma monga mwaneneramo, mlendo ndiye amadza ndi kalumo kakutwa.. Continue the great work you are doing so far and best of luck with your endeavors..
Mercy P.

 
At Friday, August 07, 2009 6:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hie, Long time! I have read your presentation with interest. Ndinthu mlendo ndi mame!
Keep the fire burning.
I was in Algeria for the 21 days PANAF 2009. It was massive, breathtaking cultural experience.
Afrika is on the move my Brother!
Our heritage is our pride.
Am now in BT as Administration Manager for TVM but am still writing and performing my primitive, native, ancestrial bush music! peace, Waliko Makhala
walikomak@yahoo.com

 

Post a Comment

<< Home


BlogCatalog