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>  News Releases >   1998 >   July

Nobel laureate to keynote Dartmouth Conference on Social Justice

Posted 07/20/98

Nigerian dissident, author and 1986 Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and a host of other noted writers, scholars, activists and policymakers from Africa, Europe, Latin America and the United States will gather at Dartmouth July 30 - August 1 for an international conference to consider how public policy affects human rights and social justice in societies that have experienced serious conflict and war.

Entitled "Truth, Healing and Social Justice: From Biafra to Bosnia," the conference will open with Soyinka's keynote speech, "The Burden of Memory," on Thursday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. in Cook Auditorium of Dartmouth's Murdough Center. Other speeches and panel discussions during the conference will examine such topics as social movements, truth commissions and judicial accountability. All presentations are free and open to the public.

The conference, which is organized by Dartmouth's African and African American Studies Program (AAAS), is being sponsored by the Ford Foundation - which earlier this year made Dartmouth one of 30 colleges and universities to receive grants from the foundation's program "Crossing Borders: Revitalizing Area Studies" - as well as the AAAS Program and the college's Nelson A. Rockefeller Center and John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

"The conference will examine the tensions between reconciliation and social justice in situations of deep internal conflict by providing a comparative perspective on Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria and the former Yugoslavia," said Dartmouth Professor, Ifi Amadiume, chair of AAAS and director of the Dartmouth Ford project "Reconceptualizing African Social Movements: Gender, Religion, Culture, Politics and Cross-Cultural Interactions" of which the conference is a part.

Amadiume explained, "Biafra is the root event for the conference. A return to the Biafran War forces a reconsideration of how people recreate communities fragmented by war and violence and how the examination of one historical experience can inform new perspectives and paradigms. Biafra provides a comparative focus on the causes of needless civilian deaths, most not on the battlefield, but as a direct result of the fighting. Rwanda exemplifies a trajectory of justice without reconciliation; South Africa illustrates one of reconciliation without justice. Each situation illuminates the other, raising numerous questions and considerations, which illustrate the richness of a comparative study."

A playwright, essayist, poet and novelist best known in this country for his classic childhood memoir, Ake , Soyinka was imprisoned for two years during the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s, later writing about the experience in his book The Man Died . In 1992, he formed the African Democratic League, dedicated to opposing dictators across the continent. Exiled from Nigeria since 1994, he has waged an unceasing international campaign in support of the Nigerian opposition, including Mashood Abiola, the Nigerian political prisoner whose death on July 7 made news internationally. In 1997 the Nigerian government charged Soyinka in absentia with treason, which carries a sentence of death. Soyinka is currently the Robert W. Wodruff Professor of Arts at Emory University. He will be visiting Dartmouth as the Rockefeller Center's Class of 1930 Fellow.

Other speakers include the closing keynote speaker, Dr. Francis Mading Deng, a Sudanese citizen who has served in international human rights organizations, has taught at Yale Law School and has written and edited more than 20 books in the fields of law, conflict resolution, human rights, anthropology, folklore, history and politics; Buchi Emecheta, a Nigerian-born author now living in England, a number of whose books drew upon her experiences as a single parent of five; representatives from the Rwandan Ministry of Justice, The Ugandan Human Rights Commission, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch Africa of Cambridge, Mass., the Center for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, based in Senegal, West Africa; and members of the faculties of Dartmouth, Emory, St. Lawrence University and universities in Nigeria and Zululand.

The conference activities also include an art installation by Nigerian artist Obiora Udechukwu titled "Conscience and Healing: House of Truth", in Alumni Hall. Udechukwu will be in residence on campus from July 30 - August 1. Students and the public are invited to participate in the production of images and texts on the theme, using texts excerpted from folklore, newspapers, the writings and pronouncements of various authors (including Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Pol Ndu) and statements written spontaneously at the site by visitors.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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