Duke's global centers & initiatives

Africa Initiative


The Africa Initiative (AI) is a faculty-led initiative that brings together scholars, from across Duke University and the Duke University Health System, who have a shared interest, through their research or programmatic activities, in the countries and cultures of the African continent. The goals of the initiative are to:

  • build connections between schools, programs, institutes and departments;
  • continue to foster new collaborations across disciplines;
  • transport existing knowledge gained whether in Durham or the African continent to other Duke locations around the globe;
  • and explore and pursue new funding opportunities and sponsored research.

Summary of 2019-2020

It has been a year of challenges and contrasts for Duke’s Africa Initiative. While the fall was filled with interesting and important events, the spring was marked by cancellations because of COVID-19. Despite the reduced schedule of events this spring, we were still able to organize or co-sponsor over 20 events during the year. As in the past, the year’s events expanded the range of topics covered and disciplines engaged, and we take pride in the fact that the AI connects schools and disciplines across Duke’s campus, and offers events and opportunities for students and faculty, as well as for community members.

Notable highlights from this year including the visit to Duke in October by famed paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey and a one-day conference on Challenging Borders. The AI, in collaboration with DUCIGS, hosted Dr. Richard Leakey on October 22, 2019 for a public lecture in the Nasher Museum of Art. Leakey spoke to an overflow audience, sharing insights, stories, and reminiscences from his fabled career as a paleoanthropologist, environmentalist, and political advocate. The AI also coordinated a lunch with Dr. Leakey and 20 graduate students with research interests in paleoanthropology, and organized special meetings with a range of other students, faculty and staff in fields related to human evolution and evolutionary anthropology.

In mid-November, the Africa Initiative hosted a day-long conference, Challenging Borders, which focused on new border policies at Europe’s margins, as well as migrant counter-strategies. It also addressed the future of West Africa’s migratory “scramble for Europe” and explored policy options that move beyond the stark divide of open or closed borders. Achille Mbembe gave the keynote lecture, entitled “Bodies as Borders.”

We also held the fourth annual African Film Festival in February, which featured four films from across the continent. The Africa Initiative awarded seven faculty grants and three student grants, as well as supported two DUCIGS graduate working groups, Forest Elephant and Post-Colonial Racial Oppression in Africa: Ethnic Discrimination, Political Oppression, Crime, and African-on-African Violence.

Next year’s programming will necessarily involve a departure from that of recent years. Much remains unknown at this point and we will be flexible in our scheduling and roll with the punches. If we are back on campus in the fall, we will resume some of the events that were cancelled this spring as well as organize a series of presentations around COVID-19in Africa. Throughout the rest of the year, we will continue funding faculty and student workshops and speakers, co-sponsoring events with Duke Performances (especially their Black Atlantic week), and continuing our February film series.


2019-2020 Notable Programs


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