MANSA’s 10th International Conference

by Barbara Hoffman, MANSA President 

The Mande Studies Association, a long-term Coordinate organization of the ASA, held its tenth triennial conference August 2-6, 2017 at the International University of Grand Bassam (IUGB) in Cote d’Ivoire, with the welcome assistance of grants from the ASA, the Dept. of State, and contributions from numerous individual donors. The theme of the conference, particularly apt for the time and place, was Intersecting Identities: Coexistence, Conflict and Reconciliation in West Africa and Its Diasporas.

 The last two decades in West Africa have been marked by violent conflicts rooted in the politics of identity. Civil wars in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali immediately followed those in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Briefer combats and coup d’états have occurred in Niger and Burkina Faso. Smaller acts of violence based on differences grounded in religion, ethnicity, and gender also occur on a regular basis throughout the region. Such acts have included violence against civilian populations carried out by militant jihadi groups in Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Niger, among others. Meanwhile, international capital, neoliberalism, and the return of overseas donors and investors are increasingly shaping dynamics in the region, where France and the United States have been actively consolidating their military interests.The panels and papers of the conference explored the processes, practices, situations, and ideologies through which peoples and societies distinguish themselves from each other, and how those distinctions sometimes lead to conflict and at other times to alliances and reconciliation.  They proposed contributions toward a peaceful future for the region that academics, opinion leaders, and citizens can make in the face of issues of identity.This was the largest conference MANSA has ever held, with some 150 presentations by scholars from ten West African countries and thirteen countries of the Global North. The largest contingent was the Ivorian scholars, fifty of them holders of doctorates, twenty-seven of them doctoral students. Most of the participants roomed and boarded on the campus of IUGB for the all five days of the conference, offering constant opportunities for discussion and networking outside of formal panel sessions. Many had never attended an interdisciplinary conference before and were enthusiastic about the opportunities for cross-discipline collaboration presented by the ASA model. We look forward to seeing many of these scholars at future MANSA triennials and ASA. conferences!

 

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